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Monday, June 16, 2008

I read an Article about this lovely woman/hero Alice O'neil in my Humane Society Magazine & decided to look her up

...and the story about the Possum below made me cry. People can be so cruel!!!

Taken from the website:

In May, 2001, the Compassionate Action Institute agreed to serve as the City-wide Coordinator for a new program initiated by the Center for Animal Care and Control (CACC) in New York City. The "Cage Comforter Program" enlists volunteers to make small comforters for the cats, kittens and small dogs under its care. The comforters not only ease the stress of the homeless animals, many of whom have been abused, abandoned and traumatized, they also help to ease the transition when the animals are adopted since they take their comforters with them to their new homes. In addition, it’s been shown that the comforters actually help boost adoptions since the animals appear to be more adoptable lying on their colorful little beds instead of crouched in shredded newspapers. During the two years following the initiation of the program, volunteers from all over the country provided approximately 10,000 beds and 10,000 toys for these homeless animals.

This is a fun and easy way to provide direct aid and comfort to animals in need.


There are a number of ways that you can help.

Volunteer to sew and become a Sewing Team Member.
Become a Sewing Team Leader.
Become a Donation Team Member
Crochet some kitty balls.
Donate needed supplies.
Make a cash donation.


1. Sewing Team Member

Sewing team members work from home to create the cage comforters. Comforters can be hand-sewn, or made with a sewing machine. Prior sewing experience is not necessary. This is an ideal project for those who want to or need to work from home. It’s great for those who consider sewing a hobby or if sewing is their passion.

You don’t have to live in New York City to help the animals at the CACC. You can mail completed comforters and/or toys to Alice O’Neil, 105 Bartlett Place, Brooklyn, NY 11229. You will receive a thank you, picture of your comforters in use and a receipt for tax purposes.

Below are instructions for creating the cage comforters and toys.
Cage Comforter Specifications:

Comforters can be made from any type material except looped fabric like chenille or terry cloth that might get snagged in the animals’ nails.

The comforters should be a finished size of 12" x 18" but this can vary. We also use 24" x 18" comforters for mamma cats with kittens, litters of kittens and small dogs. We use 24" x 36" comforters for the mamma dogs with puppies.

Here’s how to make them:

For the 12" x 18" comforter –

Cut the material 13" x 39". You can then fold it in half with the wrong side of the fabric facing out and sew down each long side. Then turn the fabric right side out. It will resemble a small pillowcase.

Batting should be at least one inch thick. Cut the batting to size – approximately 12" x 18." Slip the batting into the case and sew the open end closed.

Tack down the batting in each corner and along each side so that it doesn’t bunch up during laundering.

That’s it! You have just created a gift of comfort for a homeless animal in desperate need. You have helped to relieve her stress in her new strange environment. You have increased her chances of adoption by helping her to relax so she can put on her best face for potential adopters. When she goes to her new home, her little bed will go with her and this little familiar item will help ease her adjustment to a million new and unfamiliar things. You have done a wonderful thing. Thank you!

The Cage Comforter Program also provides toys for the dogs and cats at the CACC. These animals can become bored and restless in their new confined quarters. Toys help keep them busy and help to alleviate the stress of being in a large, municipal shelter. Below are instructions, but feel free to improvise as long as the toys are safe, we’ll use them and the animals will love them!

Sew a "Mousie:"

Mousies are little rectangles with ribbon tails. Finished size is about 2" x 4".

Cut fabric about 9" x 3". This allows for a one-inch seam all around.

Fold fabric in half with wrong side facing out.

Sew down each long side.

Turn right side out. You can use a ruler to push out the corners, if necessary.

Stuff with polyester fiberfill, batting scraps, or other soft material.

Cut a few pieces of ribbon about 5" long.

Fold in the raw edges of the opening.

Sew one-third of the way across.

Stick ends of the ribbons in about ½". Sew across the ribbons and close up the seam.

Back-tack over the entire seam just to make sure that the tail pieces are very well attached.

Sew a Doggy Toy:

We have been experimenting with doggy toys. They seem to like everything we give them, though some dogs like them "to pieces" which can be a problem. We have been purchasing rope toys that are impossible to rip up for the bigger dogs and provide little pillow type hand-sewn toys for the smaller dogs and very young puppies. First tract whatever shape you like on a piece of stiff cardboard to make a template. We used a store-bought fleece toy shaped like a bone about 10" long. We use heavy fabric like canvas, faux sheepskin or heavy fleece. Using the cardboard template, trace two identical shapes onto the fabric and cut them out. Put the two pieces together with the wrong sides of the fabric facing out. Sew all around about one inch in from the edge, but leave on end open for stuffing. Turn the toy right side out. Stuff with batting scraps, fabric scraps, polyester fiberfill or other soft material. Sew up the open edge. We experimented with putting squeakers in the toys but found that the dogs were even more motivated to open them up to get the "prize." There’s a danger that the squeakers could be swallowed, so we don’t use them in the toys any more. Feel free to experiment. The toys can be as simple or as fancy as you like. The dogs are grateful for them no matter what.

2. Sewing Team Leader

A Sewing Team Leader recruits individuals or groups to sew cage comforters. This is a great project for seniors, girl scouts, office volunteer groups, etc. The team leader sets goals for the group and oversees the volunteers to ensure that the goals are met. The leader provides assistance and support to team members. The leader keeps records and documentation to track and assist the volunteer team and reports to the Cage Comforter coordinator on a regular basis.

3. Donation Team Member

Donation Team Members identify and contact potential sources for donated or low cost supplies to support the Cage Comforter Program. This can be done by contacting sources in person, by telephone, in writing, through flyers or articles in local newspapers, or via the internet. All donators will receive a receipt for tax purposes since donations are tax-deductible.

4. Crochet Some Kitty Balls

Use 4-ply yarn. You can use any size hook – the smaller the hook the smaller the ball. The "I" hook works well. You will be working in rounds. You can count as you crochet, or you can mark the beginning of each round with a piece of different colored yarn.

Round 1 – Chain 2

Round 2 – Work 6 single crochets (sc) in the second chain from the hook.

Round 3 – Work 2 sc in each sc around for a total of 12 sc.

Round 4 - * Work one sc in next sc, 2 sc in the following sc* Repeat in that manner all the way around for a total of 18 sc.

Round 5 - * Work two sc in each of the next 2 sc’s, then 2 sc’s in the following sc* Repeat in that manner all the way around for a total of 24 sc.

Rounds 6, 7 and 8 – Work even on the 24 sc.

Round 9 - * Work one sc in each of the next 2 sc’s, then decrease in the following stitch.* A decrease is made by putting the hook in the next sc and drawing up a loop, putting the hook in the sc after that and pulling through another loop and then wrapping the yarn around the hook and pulling all three loops off the hook. Continue around in this manner for a total of 18 scs.

Round 10 - Work one sc in next sc then decrease in the following sc.* Repeat in that manner all the way around for a total of 12 sc.

Round 11 – Decrease in each sc around for a total of 6 sc.

Stuff the ball with polyester fiberfill, batting scraps, fabric scraps, etc.

Continue to decrease as long as you can and then finish off leaving a 4" strang of yarn. Weave the yarn through the sc in the final round and pull tight like a drawstring and then finish off with an additional chain. Pull the leftover yarn into the ball so no strings are loose.

The balls don’t have to be exactly to these directions – if you lose count, don’t worry. Just work your way around. If you add or decrease stitches, the ball will be a little bigger or a little smaller or a little out of shape, but the kitties won’t mind. After you’ve done a few, you’ll get the hang of it.


5. Donate Supplies

Since there is no budget for this program, we rely on the generosity of others to donate fabric, batting, thread, ribbon, etc. to the program. Donations are tax-deductible.

6. Donate Cash

You can make a money donation earmarked specifically for this program by sending a check or money order to the CACC, 11 Park Place, 8th floor, New York, New York 10007. Be sure to specify "Cage Comforter Program" on your check and the envelope. You will receive a receipt for tax purposes.


Before doing anything, first contact your local shelter to make sure they want to implement the program. Many shelters do not because it means more work for them and there are other concerns about using the comforters – such as the possibility of spreading disease in the shelter. One answer to these concerns is that a comforter is assigned to an animal and stays with that animal. He takes it with him if he is adopted. It is discarded if he is euthanized. Another answer is that volunteers will launder the beds when they are soiled, or if they are transferred to other animals. The CACC washes the beds with bleach to kill any germs.

If you would like a listing of the shelters in your area, visit Hugs for Homeless Animals at This group has a database of shelters and those that will use the comforters are designated by a red star. All you have to do is put in your zip code and it will give you a listing of the shelters in your area.

Once the shelter agrees to the program, you have to find volunteers to make the beds. There are 3 levels of volunteers – a Sewing Team Leader who oversees the activities of the sewing team members and keeps track of their activities and numbers; a Donation Team Member who recruits volunteers and solicits donations of materials; and a Sewing Team Member who does the sewing. Of course, one person can run the whole program depending on the volume of beds needed.

Volunteers can be recruited through church groups, senior centers, community centers, girl scouts, sewing circles, etc. There are numerous sewing and quilting forums that can be contacted on-line. Post a message about the program and chances are you will get some volunteers. One article in the local paper can result in volunteers as well as conations of supplies. You can also put up notices at local pet shops, vets’ offices, fabric stores, etc. Word-of-mouth works well too – every person who works on the program seems to be excited to talk about it to family and friends.

As far as getting supplies – the same notices in the same places will take care of that. You can also solicit donations from fabric stores on-line. You don’t have to use only new fabric. Sheets, pillowcases, t-shirts, etc. can all be cut up to make the beds. Comforters are great because they are already stuffed and all you have to do is cut and hem them.

You can also request money donations from people who want to participate in the program but can’t sew. You can ask for direct contributions to the program, or you can set up something where someone can donate enough money to provide beds for a specific period of time (e.g.) and during that time, the person’s name is posted at the shelter – or donations can be made in memory of a companion animal who has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. You can also set up a mechanism where people can give "gifts of kindness." They can donate a certain amount of money for someone’s birthday for example and you send that person a card telling them a gift was made in their name and sending them a picture of an animal enjoying that gift. Of course, money donations should go through the shelter earmarked for the Cage Comforter Program. If the shelter is a not-for-profit organization, tax receipts can be sent to the donator.

I have set up the program at the CACC so that most of the beds are delivered or picked up by me for distribution to the CACC shelters. Some people prefer that the volunteers go directly to the shelter themselves. This saves the coordinator time and trouble and has an added benefit – the people invariably get involved with the animals and help to find them homes. At a shelter in Pennsylvania, the program was so successful that for the first time, no cats or kittens were euthanized during the summer following the implementation of the program. That was due to the fact that quite a few volunteers were making frequent trips to the shelter to drop off beds. They talked to everyone about the work they were doing and helped raise awareness about the plight of homeless animals and the need to adopt.

The program seems to take on a life of its own. It easily captures everyone’s imagination because it’s an easy, concrete way to help animals in desperate need. Also, the level of commitment can vary – a volunteer can make one bed a month as time permits – or dozens, but every single one directly impacts on the quality of life of a shelter animal.

(Taken from the website)

This is Alice's Story as told to me

I was walking my little dog a couple of years ago and came across a dead possum lying next to the sidewalk. I never saw such a look of terror on anyone's face that she had and I said to my little dog that it was obvious she didn't die an easy death. The next day my brother came over for something and told me that kids had circled her in the street while she was trying to cross and had tormented her for a long time - they threw things at her and kicked at her and all she wanted to do was get across the street and out of everyone's way. Then they beat her to death and left her there and a neighbor who apparently had watched the whole thing, felt sorry and picked her up and moved her. Too bad she hadn't gone out sooner and maybe saved her life, but then people here were very scared of those kids for a long time - even the police couldn't control them. I didn't know anything about possums but it just got to me and I went on-line and educated myself and came to learn a lot about them - they don't carry rabies - they're not big rats, they don't destroy your garden or work their way into your house or kill your cats. In fact, they are good to have around - they clean up rotting fruit off the ground, they eat mice, rats, cockroaches and other bugs, garden slugs, etc. They don't make a nest in your yard and take up residence - they are constantly on the move, etc. I put together a flyer that I called "Opossum Alert." It seems that a lot of people in the neighborhood were terrified of them. When I started asking people about them I heard so many horror stories - normally kind, rational people,running into their yards and bashing in the heads of mothers and all of their babies! Anyway, I put the flyer together and had 3000 copies made and got up early every morning or went out after midnight (becauseI was embarrassed for some reason) and made sure every house got a flyer. This was in June and within a few weeks believe it or not, people were putting food out for them to try to attract them!

I contacted the Daily News to try to get an article done about possums and how they were being persecuted. At the same time I met an animal advocate while walking my dog - she turned out to be a forensic doctor. I told her about the mamma possum and she went and retrieved her body which had later been set on fire. There was another charred body next to hers. When the reporter came down she wasn't that sympathetic - she thought it was all a joke. The doctor went out of the room and came back in with a cardboard box with all of the charred remains - just bony hands reaching into the air - and plopped it on the table in front of her and said "In this box are the remains of 9 possums - 2 adults and 7 babies - that was the first I had known that "my" possum had been a mother with babies in her pouch. If I had known something about possums when I first found her I might have been able to save them. Anyway - the doctor gave a very moving speech and we looked over and the reporter had tears streaming down her face. Needless to say, the article that she wrote was very pro-possum.

I got a wildlife rehabber to come to the library to give a talk on possums and other forms of urban wildlife and why we have to learn to peacefully co-exist. It was at this meeting that I saw the reaction of the kids and got the idea for the kids club.

I started writing to all the different animal groups asking for what kinds of humane educational materials they had and was flooded with stuff. It occurred to me that teachers could never wade through all this stuff, and that's when I put together the humane education database. While doing this I made contact with a new group just starting up that wanted to promote humane education (it's required by law in NYS). They call themselves HEART (Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers) and now they are very active in doing teacher training.

I was very impressed at how people's attitudes changed once they became educated and that inspired me to do the website.

The Compassionate Action Institute was founded by Alice O'Neil in Brooklyn, New York in the summer of 2000. It was created in response to the senseless killing of a mother opossum who was carrying seven babies in her pouch. Teenagers circled the hapless animal who only wanted to cross the street. They tormented her for some time before beating her to death in full view of neighborhood residents who merely stood by and watched. It was clear from the comments of these adult bystanders that their ignorance had led to their fear of opossums and this was the main reason no action was taken to save the lives of this opossum family.
Please read Alice's Story

Alice launched a campaign that started with her personally distributing 3,000 leaflets with facts about opossums to every home in the neighborhood. She also arranged newspaper coverage of the killing of the mother opossum. In addition, she organised a wildlife rehabilitator to give a talk at the local library explaining the need for peaceful coexistence with urban wildlife. As a result of this humane education, people in the neighborhood developed knowledge, respect and compassion for these gentle creatures.

An opossum is on the logo of the Compassionate Action Institute in remembrance of this mother opossum. It makes her cruel death easier to bear to think that she inspired the foundation of an organization that promotes humane education and encourages people to take compassionate action on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.

Alice keeps a low profile but is undoubtedly the heart and the soul and the driving force behind The Compassionate Action Institute. Here is what she says about her achievements so far:

Although we are only a small group, we have been very active. Here are a few of the things we have been able to accomplish:

We created the website that provides information on a variety of animal issues to people around the world.
We founded the Gerritsen Beach Kind Kids Club for children ages 8-12. Kids learn about animals and how to help them and participate in humane projects.
We sponsor poster contests each year for "Be Kind to Animals Week." More than 200 children have participated during the past two years.
We have provided KIND News subscriptions to teachers in New York, Ohio and South Carolina. We obtained a grant from the Alliance for Public Shelter Animals that provided KIND News subscriptions to 500 classrooms in New York City. KIND News subscriptions cost $30 per year for 32 issues each month of the school year. If you would like to provide a subscription to your local school, visit
We created a humane education database that makes it easy for teachers to obtain humane education material. Although the database is not yet accessible on our website, we have sent copies to interested parties the United States.
We’ve worked with groups in Maui and South Carolina who wanted to start humane education programs in their areas.
Upon hearing about the plight of animals at the municipal shelter in Gatesville, Texas, we donated a brand new igloo dog house to help provide shelter for the dogs as well as specially insulated cage comforters and kitty balls for the Gatesville felines.
We volunteer at the municipal shelter in New York City. When we saw that the cats’ water bowls easily tipped over soaking the cages, we provided 6 dozen non-tippable stainless steel water bowls so the cats can stay dry.
We run the Cage Comforter Program for the municipal shelter and in less than two years the program has provided close to 10,000 beds and 8,000 toys to the homeless animals sheltered there.
We founded an employee animal lovers club at the New York City Housing Authority that is working to improve conditions for animals in New York City and around the world. Check out the CAT section on this website to read about the accomplishments of this group.
We have answered countless requests for information from people around the world who have been faced with urban wildlife problems. These have included such things as mice stuck on glue traps, bats in the attic, orphaned baby rabbits, skunks trapped under the house, etc.
We have helped many students by answering requests for information on animal-related issues.
All of this and much more has been accomplished in a short time by a mere handful of people on a very small budget inspired by a little opossum who just wanted to cross the street in peace.

The need is great. Get involved and do your part to help make a kinder, gentler world.


The name "Compassionate Action" came from ideas expressed by Mary Lou Randour in her book Animal Grace: Entering a Spiritual Relationship with Our Fellow Creatures (New World Library: Novato, California, February 2000):

…Awareness is the source of compassion... Compassion is the underlying principle of the Golden Rule… Crucial to the notion of compassion is the ability to see the other’s suffering and then to respond to it; compassion requires us to take action that will relieve suffering. It makes us moral agents….Compassion, then, is an action. It also is a strong feeling, not a sentiment, which trivializes it…Compassion is a kind of ‘fierce tenderness’ that contains a powerful energy. It is the energy of a fierce warrior determined to relieve suffering.

"Institute" was added to Compassionate Action based on a future vision where this group would develop its own humane educational materials and programs and perhaps even provide training to teachers and humane educators.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world." ~ Gandhi

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