By Erica Jane Knaup
When a 12-week-old stray kitten made an epic run across the field at Busch Stadium, he had no idea that he would inspire a team and its fans, unite a city, and shed light on the plight of community cats everywhere. The legend of Rally Cat is a story of a kitten, a baseball team, a dedicated group of community cat advocates, and the pride of an entire city searching for something to rally behind.
The legend began on August 9, 2017. The bases were loaded with two outs, and legendary veteran Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was at the plate. The Cardinals were down 5-4 to their cross-state interleague rivals, the Kansas City Royals. The Cardinals were having a so-so season – just one game above the .500 mark -- but things were looking up, as the team was on a winning streak of late, and only trailed the division-leading Chicago Cubs by 2.5 games. This at-bat needed to count, and the 44,139 screaming fans were on their feet.
Suddenly, a flash of gray fur darted out toward the outfield. Fans and players squinted and motioned toward the creature, who was now strutting around centerfield. A squirrel? There was that famous “Rally Squirrel” that appeared at Busch Stadium during the Cardinals 2011 playoff run. No – this was a cat! But running across the hallowed grass in Busch Stadium? Why? How? The cat was picked up and escorted out of the stadium by a groundskeeper, but what happened next birthed a legend.
As for the Cardinals, play resumed, and Molina sent the next pitch towering into the bleachers -- grand slam. As for the cat, multiple rumors began swirling before the game even ended. The truth is that cat was claimed outside the stadium by a woman purporting to be his guardian. After questioning, the woman admitted she was not the cat’s guardian – but she wanted bring him home, and that the terrified cat leapt from her arms and escaped at a nearby park.
Upon hearing of the now-legendary cat’s escape, the volunteers of St. Louis Feral Cat Outreach (STLFCO) mobilized. STLFCO is an all-volunteer group dedicated to the Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) of community cats in the area. The group got its start based on a small group of individuals realizing that the thousands of community cats in St. Louis deserved better. STLFCO volunteers respond to requests for assistance in trapping, neutering, and returning cats, provide education to the public, and promote TNR as a humane solution to the large populations of community cats breeding and filling up local shelters.
A team of dedicated volunteers set traps and waited near the park where Rally Cat was last seen. After several hours, the 12-week-old kitten found the bait irresistible, and he was trapped in the early morning hours of August 11, approximately 30 hours after his impromptu Busch Stadium tour. He received a vet checkup that afternoon, and now that he was successfully found and was safe, the frenzy only grew. St. Louis was officially in love.
In many ways, a community cat is a perfect metaphor for St. Louis. As a city, St. Louis has been battling image problems as of late. The unrest in nearby Ferguson, police scandals, economic troubles, and violent crime give an impression of a city that barely has its head above the nearby mighty Mississippi River. However, St. Louisans have pride. They have pride in their history, the numerous attractions in town, their deep connections, and of course, in their baseball team.
As St. Louis residents trying to make their city a better place for cats as well as for people, STLFCO volunteers exemplify this scrappy sense of St. Louis pride and purposefulness. This sense propels them to help community cats and the people that care for them in some of the most forlorn places in the city. Most of these volunteers have regular 9-to-5 jobs. Their early mornings before work are filled with dropping off loads of cats at the vet to be spayed or neutered, handling requests for TNR help on their lunch breaks, and changing clothes to go out and trap cats all over again as soon as they get home from work. They do it because they love cats, and they love their city. They do it because they know it means fewer homeless cats crowding shelters. They do it because it is simply the right thing to do, and if they don’t do it, no one else will. They certainly don’t do it for recognition, as recognition was something that came along only after the legend of Rally Cat was born.
Recognition comes with both perks and pratfalls. STLFCO volunteers are thrilled that their chance encounter with a famous stray kitten has stamped TNR into the public vocabulary. Rally Cat has created a dialogue about issues facing community cats, and has created interest among the public in donating funds, donating supplies, and volunteering with STLFCO. However, now that word is out about the services STLFCO provides for community cats, requests for help have started pouring in, and STLFCO has very limited funds to help everyone that needs them.
Rally Cat has had hundreds of adoption inquiries, and will eventually find a loving home with a trusted family. However, there are thousands of homeless cats in local shelters, and thousands of community cats living on the streets of St. Louis. Rally Cat’s current goal is to relax for the time being and cheer on the Cardinals to the playoffs, but his ultimate goal – along with settling into his eventual new home – is to encourage the adoption of shelter cats, and bring awareness to TNR. He has already accomplished his first goal of giving St. Louis something to cheer about, and STLFCO hopes that Rally Cat will help them accomplish their goal of TNR-ing enough cats to fill Busch Stadium. Cheers to you, Rally Cat, along with your Cardinals, your city, and the volunteers who work every day to save cats just like you.