She takes cat colonies under her wing

Rachel Spivack

After nearly five years and spending thousands of dollars of her own money, Gilroy resident Rachel Spivack is extending a plea for help to the city of Gilroy.

“I would love to see some community involvement, if the community could just step up and help,” Spivack, who spends $150 a month feeding feral cats.  

A professional chef and restaurateur who operated Spivac’s in San Jose’s Silver Creek in the 2000s,  she is what the cat community calls a “feeder,” someone who provides food and water to feral cat colonies.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I pay for all the food, and I haven’t been well, and I can’t just go and do this all the time.”  

She cares for more than 30 cats and kittens living in a grassy area adjacent to the Costco gas station. She also provides food and water to smaller cat colonies near Wal-Mart.

The response has been mostly favorable, but not always.

One man spotting her pouring food and water into bowls offered to help her with the wild cats—“by getting his .22 out of the car.” Another man yelled at her for feeding them, saying they were a nuisance. Sometimes homeless people will steal the food for their own animals. Some have left canned food after taking her dry food.

“Mostly, people are nice,” she says.

Last year Spivack received help from fellow feline fancier Erin Moulton, who moved to Gilroy in September. Wanting to continue her volunteer work for the cat community, Moulton found out about Spivack’s efforts when she contacted the Cat Resource Center (CRC) in Santa Clara, an organization whose goal is to improve the quality of life for all cats, as well as reducing and eliminating the killing of homeless cats in pet and feral communities.

Since meeting last year, the duo have provided fresh food and water seven days a week to numerous cat colonies located in retail store parking lots off 10th Street.

“I feel like animals don’t have a choice whether or not they are taken care of, and it’s kind of up to the people in their lives,” Moulton said.

Volunteer Cynthia Stocker has been involved with the CRC for years, and considers the organization an invaluable resource.

Stocker and Keye Luke, her CRC trapping partner since 2008, use the organization when it comes to feeding, trapping and maintenance of cat colonies in South County and the city of Santa Clara, as well as providing adoption of healthy kittens.

“In addition to people stopping the influx of ferals by getting their own pets fixed, it would help greatly if they didn’t hassle feeders and trappers,” Luke said.

“We are trying to rid the community of unwanted cats, but we will not, nor will shelters, kill them.”

Spivack began her career over 25 years ago as chef for Karen and Walter Loewenstern, longstanding members of the San Jose/Silicon Valley scene. Walter Loewenstern co-founded the Rolm Corporation and Karen Loewenstern founded the San Jose-Cleveland Ballet. Spivack opened Spivac’s restaurant in San Jose in 2000 in the Silver Creek area.

Her humanitarian efforts began in November 2011, after serving as a patient advocate for numerous years to Stella Beer, a woman she came to love and who passed away at the age of 101.

“I’m a pretty strong gal, and I take care of everybody, but I really missed her a lot,” Spivack said, adding, “We had such great times and she was such a beautiful, beautiful person.”

Before her death, Beer, who was suffering from dementia, experienced the loss of a beloved pet, a Russian Blue cat she named Lexi.

Distraught over the loss, Spivack fabricated a story for Beer, about finding another Russian Blue, who’d been abandoned and was living in a nearby shelter.

“Working with a dementia patient, in order to calm them down, you work with them in the moment,” Spivack said.

Beer was so accepting of her caregiver’s story that Spivack was determined to make it come true. After consulting with Beer’s daughter, she searched online, something she wasn’t exactly experienced in, and found a Russian Blue that had just come up for adoption.

The following day, Lexi Two, had a new home.

Beer’s deep love of cats stemmed from a childhood memory of witnessing unwanted kittens being thrown in a sack and drowned in a nearby river. It was a memory that plagued Beer up to her dying day.

Spivack, too, was troubled by the story and when she came across two kittens running loose on the Home Goods store parking lot only a month after Beer died, Spivack believed she’d received a message from her beloved friend.

Luke and Stocker both say that they have witnessed a rise of feral cats in the South County area.

“There is a tremendous need for more people to become involved with what I see as a public health issue,” Stocker said.

Spivack believes she has the answer.

“I think the city of Gilroy needs to make a shelter for these cats. There’s a big problem here.”

Bob Spivack, Rachel’s husband, is in total agreement.

“It’s probably like most things,” he said. “It takes an investment by the city but in the long run it will save the city money, time, and nuisance calls to the police.”

Unfortunately, at the moment there are no answers, or options available.

“During the recession, cities in South County suspended animal services, it’s time to bring those services back,” Luke said.

Moulton thoroughly researched South County veterinarians looking for those that offered TNR, (trap, neuter and return), a free service to help cut down the growing number of feral cats.

“There’s no one participating in that program, I’ve called every single person on the list,” Moulton said.

Spivack, Moulton and Stocker join in asking the city government, and the community, for help.

“I love animals so much because I believe that they deserve to be treated with respect. I don’t want to see them suffer,” Spivack said.
For more on the CRC, go to: www.catcenter.org/.

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