It appears it's been raining cats more so than dogs in Forest Park lately.
A group of concerned residents and animal lovers alike formed an organization to monitor and aid the growing feral cat population in the village - which, though too hard to actually measure, could likely number in the thousands.
Though only a couple months old, C.A.T.S. for Forest Park has already been fielding numerous calls from residents complaining that stray cats are "digging in my garden, pooping in my yard or picking fights," said Terri Woods, one of the group's founders.
There might not be any more wild cats in Forest Park than any other town, said Michelle Melin-Rogovin, a C.A.T.S. for Forest Park coordinator. But the problem, she said, is that the village does not have an established service provider that cares for stray cats.
"Because there is no reliable service provider that can help us control and maintain it, the cat population grows exponentially," Melin-Rogovin said.
According to the group, the best way to treat this increasing problem is to trap the wild cats, get them spayed and neutered, and then return them back to where they came from.
"You eventually have cat colonies that are all spayed and neutered, they are grown and healthy, and they live out their lives," Melin-Rogovin said. "It's a humane and loving thing to do to animals that are in need."
These "cat colonies" are packs of cats, numbering anywhere from 2 to 50, that congregate in the same area, usually a place that offers both shelter and food. After the animals are fixed, the population of the colony is somewhat maintained. Ideally, C.A.T.S. would also like to assign a volunteer to keep on eye on each colony, checking for sicknesses or injuries and making sure the cats are eating.
"These are cats that are poorly socialized, used to being outside, and very skittish about being around humans, but they know where sources of food are and being together is safer than being separate," Melin-Rogovin said.
One established cat colony nicknamed "Whiskers" already exists in Forest Park at Desplaines Avenue and Taylor Street. There are about 40 cats in the group. There are at least four colonies in the village with a 5 to 10 cat range, according to Tom Van Winkle, executive director of the Animal Care League, an animal shelter in Oak Park.
Van Winkle said he, too, receives calls all the time about Forest Park felines. But, he said, his shelter, a private facility, can only do so much. He already has a full house with 130 to 150 cats, and just last week three more kittens were left in a box at their doorstep.
"The problem is there's not room in any shelters," he said. "We have far, far too many cats out there."
The Animal Care League has a contract with Oak Park and River Forest village governments to care for their stray cats. While they do not have a contract with Forest Park, they do sponsor C.A.T.S. for Forest Park. Recently, the not-for-profit shelter awarded C.A.T.S. with a $10,000 grant to spay and neuter 300 Forest Park strays.
Tim Gillian, village administrator, said that Forest Park does have a cat ordinance which allows for colony caretakers, if they are trained and approved by the Animal Care League.
As for the growing population of felines, he said, "I wasn't aware that we had a significant stray cat problem, so I will look into that."
New village resident Perry Pelonero moved to the 1100 block of Troost Avenue in April, and within days he said he noticed the stray cats hanging around.
"I see them in the alley, and I see them running back and forth across the street all the time," he said.
He said the cats have never been a nuisance, and his neighbors don't seem to mind either.
"They are harmless, in my opinion," he said. "They are animals, so they don't know what is going on. They are not bothersome; they keep to themselves for the most part."