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ST. MARYS — A local animal shelter is hoping to reduce the feral and stray cat population in the city of St. Marys one feline at a time.
Sue’s Animal Rescue Team (SART) has been helping control the cat population as well as placing the felines in loving homes for several years now. Now, the organization is turning its attention toward more proactive ways to help reduce the stray cat population in the city.
“In the past few years, we have taken close to 1,000 cats off the streets,” SART founder Sue Cheslock said. “I don’t think people realize what a problem we have here with strays. We estimate there are 500 or more out there.”
SART is a no-kill shelter, and cats that are not adopted out live their days out at the shelter. As a no-kill shelter, the facility also often reaches capacity.
“We have adopted 470 kitties and have 390 out here now,” Cheslock said. “Others have had to be put down because of injuries or illness, and some have passed away. Some others we have moved from the street to a special place we have out here.”
To help ease shelter populations and stray cat issues, Cheslock said she is eyeing a trap, neuter, release (TNR) program. By incorporating the program, Cheslock said many of the issues that surround stray and feral cats should disappear.
“You capture the feral cats in colonies and work on one at a time,” Cheslock said. “You get them fixed and inoculated and then mark them, usually with a tattoo so you know that cat has been done. You then put them back where they were found.”
As the program progresses and colonies are worked on, the population should begin to balance itself out. Cheslock stressed the importance of keeping the cats in a group and returning the animals to their home ranges.
“If you do it one colony at a time, all the cats and their families are intact and now, they won’t reproduce,” Cheslock said. “There will be no more fighting and mating and all those other bad behaviors. Those cats will be able to live out their lives and slowly, over time, the populations will diminish.”
Cheslock also encouraged the public to help out. Organized feeding stations could help prevent cats from digging through garbage and help keep them healthy.
“Our idea is we would put feeding stations in each of the city parks, discretely placed of course,” Cheslock said. “Also we would place each on the edge of the trailer parks because there are quite a few people who feed them there. There also could be schedules made for feedings ... I just think what a good and progressive attitude toward fixing the problem it is. To be able to do a whole sweep of the town and say our cats are fixed and we have controlled the reproduction problems would be great.”
Cheslock noted she also hopes the public’s perception of cats changes with the program.
“I often tell people that if there were 500 stray dogs running the streets and puppies were getting abused, someone would step in,” Cheslock said. “But for cats, the view is so different than dogs running at large.”
Currently the group is working on cat issues on the east side of the city. Getting a handle on the cat population is critical because of how prolific the animals can reproduce.
“If you have two cats born, a male and a female, within seven years those cats can produce 420,000 cats because they can produce three to four litters a year,” Cheslock said. “It’s a pyramid effect. We’ve been working on each part and we’ve got 13 cats out now, but we have to be careful because our funds are limited.”
SART has applied for several grants in recent years. Cheslock said the possibility of teaming up with the city of St. Marys could open up SART to a new stream of funding.
“I am always looking for funds,” Cheslock said. “When I talked with (Safety-Service Director) Jason Little, I was looking for maybe some financial assistance — maybe if they applied for grants available to communities that could be an avenue that’s not as used as grants for shelters. There are so many shelters in the country applying for the same things that it can be difficult.”
In addition to focusing on the stray and feral cat population, SART also remains active on the adoption front. The shelter adopts an average of three cats per week.
While some may view stray and feral cats as a nuisance, Cheslock said the animals — in smaller numbers — do provide a useful service some may overlook.
“They do keep rodents under control — even if they are fed,” Cheslock said. “Cats will hunt for sport. I don’t think many people realize just how many rats and mice we would have if we didn’t have some cats out there keeping those in check. They do serve a purpose.”
Little said he plans to speak with city councilors regarding any assistance the city can provide to Cheslock. He noted stray and feral cats are an issue around the city.
“We get a bunch of calls on them,” Little told The Evening Leader. “It’s a problem and we are getting complaints. It’s ultimately a city problem.”
TNR was the first solution Little said he heard of to combat the cat issues. He also encouraged residents to contact him if they have any other viable solutions.
“Obviously one solution is the ‘do nothing’ solution and we are in a way doing that already,” Little said. “Another way is TNR — it’s going to cost some money and may upset people, but ultimately it would reduce the population over time. Right now, I am open to any kinds of solutions. I don’t know where this will go, if any where, but I was interested and thought it was a neat idea.”
For more information on SART, including adoptions and donations, visit SARTOhio.org.