Under porches, in basements and in garages,sheds and barns, a free roaming cat population continues to grow in Barron County. It’s estimated that about 12,000 abandoned and stray cats struggle to stay alive throughout the cold winter months in this county alone.
Community Cats Coalition, a registered nonprofit group, is taking on the challenge to help these cats and provide alternative solutions to cat overpopulation.
One of the services that CCC provides is the Trap, Neuter and Return process. Truly feral cats, not able to be domesticated and rehomed, are trapped, neutered and returned to where they were found. They also receive rabies shots to maintain their health. Members of CCC assess between feral and stray or abandoned cats.
Kathy Schoener, who has been involved in helping feral and abandoned cats since 2014, said, “The ultimate goal of CCC is zero population growth of free roaming cats.”
From wild to mild
“Many of these cats we find are not feral,” Schoener said.
They are cats that are strays, ‘left behind’ cats, and the many kittens born to them. Or they have been abandoned by people who have been misled into believing cats will survive if they leave them by farms or other places.
In 2015, 16 cats were abandoned in Rice Lake and had to be trapped. The cats appeared to be feral, but in reality were just scared. Some have since been adopted. Many times, these cats learn to trust again and can become pets.
“Abandoning any animal is illegal in Wisconsin and CCC is working to end this with alternative solutions,” said Kimber Brantley, a professional TNR trapper from Tennessee.
“Truly feral cats are born with survival skills and can live healthy outside lives just like any wild animal,” she said. “However cats not born outside have no idea how to survive especially when temperatures drop. They often perish due to climate, predators, cars and starvation.
“When people drop them off at farms, the farm cats typically run them off or kill them,” she said. “Cats often wander down country roads without hope,” she said.
Schoener said that some of the truly feral cats can rehomed to more suitable environments such as warehouses, barns, nurseries, stables and breweries, where they can become ‘working cats.
There are many businesses that use the feral strays as working cats to keep rodent populations down. The cats are given a shelter from the cold and/or heat, clean water and food to supplement their diets.
Hotbed for cats
Mobile home parks often have a lot of cats and CCC will have focus on them. Colonies of stray cats have been found in every trailer park in Rice Lake, Cameron and Barron.
Bringing the issue to the forefront was the tornado in Barron County last May. After Prairie Lakes Estates mobile home park was devastated, the Barron County Humane Society and rescue groups had their work cut out for them.
Kari Harrison, Brantley and Dana Mercier were on the scene to save the cats that had made the park their home.
“After working with the Prairie Lake Estates pet rescue last year, it was discovered that there was a huge feral colony living there,” said Harrison. “We trapped about 100 cats and kittens that didn’t belong to anyone.
“A few families said they would put food out, but nobody provided any other care,” she said. “Then I met Kathy and learned of her efforts.
“When Kathy asked me to help her I decided that a difference needed to be made,” said Harrison. “I joined Kathy’s efforts in forming Community Cats Coalition, where I can make a difference in the lives of the suffering.”
The cats rescued after the tornado were trapped, and Harrison said that medical attention was provided by veterinarians Brian Woods of the Rice Lake Animal Hospital and Kamran Khan of the Animal Hospital of Chetek and Animal Hospital North in Rice Lake.
“Rescue and rehoming involves much more than just trapping,” Harrison said. “It involves high medical costs due to the environments they come from. It involves placing kittens and cats into foster homes until they are ready to be altered and adopted. It requires adoption events. Most importantly, it requires volunteers, funding and a community working together to solve a community problem.”
“I think this is important for people to understand that we are not a shelter but are assisting our local shelter,” said Schoener. “Our main goal is to get at the root of the problem by stabilizing the outside population.”
All members of the CCC recognize that free roaming cats have been ignored too long and change is needed. Each member of the group has diverse skills that they bring to the team, and all have a common denominator, a compassion for animals.
For example, Patti Reinagle and her husband, Brad, have nine of their own rescued cats and added another on on a cold winter night. Brad rescued a young cat frozen on a country road that has now become a pet. Brenda Rederer, who managed the Ice Age Trail in New Auburn until retirement is an avid ailurophile and helps wherever she can. Tammy Eiler and her husband assist CCC by proving a sanctuary for feral cats in the program and Kristie Spaeth has accounting skills needed for the organization as well as an open house for foster cats.
The group works together to rescue the cats and implement the TNR program, along with adopting out cats.
CCC is interested in getting more people involved in any aspect they feel comfortable with including trapping, feeding, fostering or public relations.
Financial support is also needed for spay and neuter costs, food and other needs. Checks may be made out to Community Cats Coalition, Inc. and sent to Community Cats Coalition, Inc. at Sterling Bank in Rice Lake.
An informational booth will be set up by CCC at the Mom’s Day Celebration craft and vendor show Saturday at the Rice Lake Cedar Mall. The event runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
For more information, call 715-271-3581.