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One of the only cats not always afraid to make himself visible is one that Phelps has named “Spot. On a recent sunny day, he spent several minutes out in the sun next to the building and then ventured out into the high grass and caught a large rodent.

NAHCOTTA — A team of dedicated volunteers share feeding and clean up duties to help a colony of feral cats that for years have chosen a ramshackle building at the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta as their home.

Once a nationally known restaurant and key part of the community, The Ark was spotlessly maintained. Its manicured surroundings included a garden which grew some of the fresh produce used in culinary masterpieces that garnered acclaim from such champions of fine cuisine as James Beard.

Now, instead of $30 creations such as garlic-infused Szechuan sturgeon and salmon with wild blackberry praline sauce served at tables overlooking Willapa Bay, breakfast is served daily to feral felines on the west outside porch. It can be any number of canned cat food flavors and scoops from bags of dry kibble, served on old dinner plates resting atop a weathered outside floor.

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Jaden Ding, 13-year-old grandson of cat colony manager Barb (Barbie) Ann Phelps often accompanies her to feed the feral cats at The Ark abandoned restaurant in Nahcotta. They come all the way from Naselle.

The building itself now has barn red paint peeling off of siding, loose boards and roof areas that have given way to weathering and gravity. Some windows are broken.

A variety of objects have been dumped on the grounds, from bicycles to worn-out tires, the occasional abandoned vehicle, furniture, car seats — the list is endless. The restaurant fell into disrepair after being sold to an aspiring chef from California and has sat vacant most of this century. It’s currently owned by a trustee in Los Angeles.

The former clear view of Willapa Bay is partially blocked by tall grass, weeds and blackberry brambles. But to the cats, it’s home and the only place they’ve ever known. And they’re not at all like the house cats that perch on a human’s lap in front of a fireplace. They’re scrappy and they are survivors. Ark Feral Colony manager Barb Ann Phelps tells why.

Not your average kitties

On a Facebook page set up for supporters of these felines (Ark Community Cats) Phelps has noted, “These felines began in life without human contact; no touch, no love, no trust. This start has altered their brains, making them not adoptable. They are not and will not become domesticated cats.”

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Spot looks wary as he perches near cat beds and water bottles on the west side porch of The Ark.

Phelps began managing this colony and organizing volunteer efforts three years ago. She said it happened, “when a lady moved away. She had managed it for 10 years. There used to be a lot of cats here.” She estimates that three years ago, there were 15 or so. Phelps commented, “I think a few of them are gone — coyotes or something.”

Numbers are also down because of spay and neuter efforts. Kathy Condron, who educates on and oversees a Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program through South Pacific County Humane Society in Long Beach, has personally trapped and transported a number of these cats to the veterinary clinic for reproductive surgery. Then, they have been returned to what they consider home — The Ark.

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Paula Darland volunteers, feeding The Ark cats once a week. Group members have assigned feeding days.

Condron said, “It is a labor-intensive process. The goal is for the group to diminish in size, disappearing over time by attrition.”

Phelps said it’s hard to tell exactly how many are there now, as they never come around all at the same time. Only one might be seen on a given day, another the next day. There is not much rhyme or reason. But the total seems to be about half of the 15 from three years ago.

Volunteers feed and clean

The Facebook group currently has 53 members. Some help with feeding and efforts to clean up the area. Phelps said that working volunteers are always needed and can contact her for information. Her phone number is on the banner stretched against the long wall of the porch.

Those who participate in feeding the cats are assigned certain days, in an effort to avoid confusion or crossover feedings. People not in this volunteer group are cautioned against just showing up and filling dishes.

Phelps is one of the feeders, even though she lives in Naselle and it is no short drive. She works five days a week at the animal shelter and can often correspond the feeding with that schedule. Diane and Stu Andrews feed, as do Deb Trost and Gail Goldberg. Paula Darland also takes one morning a week for the task, which she finds rewarding and relaxing.

On a recent sunny Wednesday morning, she opened the back of her SUV and scooped kibble out of a container, filled her hands with cat food cans and climbed the stairs to the porch to deposit the chow on the plates.

Darland likes this task because, she said, “I’m on my own routine, one day a week.” She has been doing this for about a year. She explained the system. “We always refurbish water and take out the empty water jugs. And, we are always picking up trash.”

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It is made clear that The Ark cats make up a managed feral colony. The group that cares for them requests no unsolicited feedings be done. If someone wants to help, they can donate canned or dry cat food and supplies, either taking the items to the Shelter in Long Beach (making sure they’re earmarked for The Ark cats) or by calling Barb Ann Phelps at the number on the sign.

She listed the cats she knows that are in the colony. There’s a gray and white one that Phelps calls Spot. Darland said, “There’s another similar one. I call it Spot’s Lookalike. There’s a couple of black ones and a couple tuxedos.”

After feeding and doing some cleanup chores, Darland likes to get back into her SUV and sit and see which cat or cats come out. She just likes to watch them. On this day, a sunny one after about a week of rain, Spot went up onto the porch to check things out and then descended down to the ground, where he hid in some brambles for a bit and then came out in clear view. He clowned around, rolling on his back and licking his paw, clearly enjoying the good weather. Darland said, “I’ve never seen him so relaxed.”

After a while in the bright sun, Spot began stalking some nearby chirping birds and then sauntered along the base of the building out to some tall grass on the bay side. All of the sudden, he jumped and pounced into the overgrown blades of grass, disappearing except for his striped tail which was sticking straight up. In a few moments, he walked out slowly, his head held high to keep the big rodent he had caught from touching the ground. He took his catch of the day under the porch and didn’t come back out.

Why does Darland volunteer her time and efforts? “It’s a place that needs our help and is something we can easily do and work into our routines.” She glanced toward where Spot had been sunning himself. “And times like this, we can sit and watch a darling cat.”

Bringing help

Phelps has a 13-year-old grandson, Jaden Ding, who shares her love for the cats and doesn’t shy away from tasks. “He comes here with me a lot and helps me clean up,” she said, adding, “He’s a good worker.”

He is also learning about cat behavior from Phelps. “My whole life, I’ve always had ferals show up at my house,” she recalled, saying she has learned a great deal about their needs and acts from experience.

No more, hopefully

Both Phelps and Condron stress that they don’t want to see any new cats just showing up out of nowhere. Abandoning domestic felines into a feral colony is basically abuse. Abandoning a cat anywhere is the same. Washington state has laws for protection of animals.

The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) clearly professes that domestic cats dumped to fend for themselves don’t have the street smarts to survive and can’t cope. Cats on their own outdoors rarely live more than about two years, while those in colonies like the one at The Ark may make it to age 10.

Phelps pleads that if a person has an unwanted feline, the shelter can help. Don’t dump! Surrender! “Don’t make them suffer.” Call the shelter at 360-642-1180.

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