The cat wisperer
A passel of cats came out of the woods when Allie Birmingham called. They followed her down a quiet side road off Highway 49 with their tails standing up in the air.
“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” whispered Birmingham, founder of WAGS (Western Animal Guardian Sanctuary) & Whiskers, a newly formed animal rescue group in Camptonville.
“Cats like it when you speak soft and gentle, especially the ferals,” she said quietly. “They learn to trust you that way.”
When they reached the agreed-upon boundary line, cats of different sizes and colors sat on their haunches and looked up at Birmingham, seemingly hanging on every word she said.
“They’re not allowed past here, and they know it,” said Birmingham, who fancies herself as a “cat whisperer” of sorts.
Many of the cats that came when Birmingham called were untamed ferals when she took them in.
“This black cat was a mean guy,” she said. “He was beating up on all the other cats so I did the process on him.”
The “process”, Birmingham said, involves taking things slowly, connecting with cats to help them adjust to new surroundings and become more sociable and friendly with other cats and people.
“If you watch cats, they pause and look at things, especially in an environment they’re not familiar with – they do everything slow,” she said. “The slower I get, the calmer they get.”
Of course the ultimate goal, Birmingham said, is to find good, loving homes for all the cats.
“Through the WAGS and Whiskers process, we’re making them more adoptable,” she said.
Birmingham’s way with cats began in the Walnut Creek area when she was just 5 years old.
“We had a weeping willow in the backyard,” the WAGS & Whiskers founder said. “I’d wrap my dinner in a paper towel, and all the wild cats would be waiting for me under the willow tree, and my life has been devoted to animals ever since,” she said.
Birmingham admits, however, that it’s hard to describe just what she does and the connection she has with cats.
But like famed “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts – who tames wild horses – people who know Birmingham say they’re amazed by her knack for turning feral cats into loving companions.
“If there was such a thing as a cat whisperer, Allie would be it,” said WAGS Fund-raising and Resource Director Joy Cleary. “She seems to have that special connection.”
WAGS Executive Director Sandy Phillips said she was a “dog person” until she met Birmingham and adopted one of the ferals she’d rescued and tamed.
“She totally socialized him, and now he’s the best, most gentle lap cat,” Phillips said. “Now he just wants to sit in your lap and purr. He’s so sweet.”
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