LocationAlhambra , CA United States
At dusk, half a dozen cats gather on an otherwise ordinary patch of asphalt, waiting for a meal. One by one, they emerge – from statuesque posts like so many sentries atop walls and peeking out from the warm underbellies of parked cars.
A familiar honk and crunch on tires atop the pavement alert them of her arrival. The cats are soon rewarded as a smelly parcel drops by the sidewalk. Ravenous, they creep over to the batch of wet and dry cat food mixture and dig in.
This mysterious provider is a woman of stealth. Driving with intent, strategically dropping off her arsenal at unmarked stations throughout the town, it is none other than Yin Fong Yap, Alhambra’s neighborhood cat lady. In fulfilling her “mission” to feed cats of the San Gabriel Valley the woman has quite literally gone undercover.
Over the years, Yap has become a sort of infamous celebrity of neighborhoods in Alhambra. With her notorious Silver hatchback, Yap has committed herself to care for the cats of Alhambra – much to the dismay of many townspeople.
“They always poop in my yard!” is a common complaint – along with cat fights, fleas, and the sheer number of the roaming felines.
What comes to mind when thinking of a cat lady is an elderly widow (which Yap is not) with erratic behavior (subjective) who hides away in her dusty house with fifty cats (this is untrue).
While protests have not come without reason, the method behind her madness is something the angry neighbors do not typically consider.
When asked about what she does, Yap offered me the opportunity to ride along on one of her nightly cat feeding runs around the city. Excited to get a firsthand look, I said yes.
Opening of the car door, I was hit with a strong whiff of cat food. The back seat was buried with sacks of kibble and cans of wet food. Except for herself and her husband, the cat lady joked, “Nobody rides in my car.”
Yap’s system is to drive and park, then drive and park. “Whenever I see cats, I stop,” she said. Yap has a routine with designated stops around Alhambra. She pointed out cats and told me about them as we passed by. They were everywhere!
The cat lady refers to herself as a cat lover, but Yap cares about all animals. She is a thin Asian woman in a sundress with angular features, long black hair, large eyes and a feisty personality.
Born in Malaysia, Yap’s family moved to America in 1998. She worked as a cosmetologist and as of now, in sales for a friend. Since then, she has devoted all her spare time to this particular hobby.
Yap knows all the cats in Alhambra. For every cat, she has a story, and if one goes missing, she said she would notice within days. The black cat across my house, for instance, has three kittens; one was killed in front of my driveway, run over by a car, Yap said.
At many of the stops, Yap has a secret spot to dispense cat food. “I have to hide,” she said, in order to avoid fights with neighbors. The arguments get so bad, she said, that several people have threatened to call the police. “Go ahead,” she replies. “The police know me!”
When it comes down to going around town feeding cats, policies are subjective. “It depends on the situation,“ according to a representative from the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control. In Yap’s case, in addition to keeping them fed, “If the animals are fixed and vaccinated, then that’s okay,” the spokeswoman explains.
When she has the time, Yap works with FixNation, a non-profit providing free spay and neutering for homeless cats. Through the trap-neuter-return method, she traps the cats, sends them off to a nearby FixNation clinic through a friend to get them neutered, and then helps return them. To signal the cats have been fixed, the clinics give them a nick on the ear.
Yap said she encourages people to help get cats fixed as the best way to control the population of street cats.
Those annoyed neighbors argue that feeding the homeless cats worsen the problem.
There are strays – cats who had gotten lost or abandoned by their owners. And then there are ferals: cats who were born on the streets with little to no human action. For that reason, these cats are typically unadoptable, so the streets are the only home they have.
“But cats don’t die like that,” Yap said. “They starve slowly, and they suffer.” Her goal is to not only help limit the cat population but also show compassion.
But keeping a city full of cats fed is not easy. That 20-pound sack of cat kibble from Costco? Yap waves her hand. Gone in a day. She urges people to help out. “These are community cats,” she said. “People need to care.”
Allison Ko is an Alhambra Source intern and a junior at Alhambra High School.