Five years ago my roommate and I noticed the stray cats in our alley. Socks - named for her little white paws - was pregnant, even though she still looked like a kitten herself. Anxious for her brood, we fed them and managed to trap a kitten that we brought to the Animal Care League in Oak Park. But we didn't know what else we could do. The adult cats were definitely feral and would not adjust to living indoors, even though their outdoor lives were hard. Many had battle scars. One was missing an ear from frostbite.
This summer I found out about C.A.T.S. for Forest Park, a volunteer program organized to humanely care for stray cat colonies. I went to their Sundaes for Strays benefit at the end of August hoping to find resources for my alley cats. As it turned out, C.A.T.S. had already found them.
I explained their location to Terri Woods, one of three founders of C.A.T.S. and lamented that four of the six cats had been pregnant in the spring, but I'd only seen one kitten. She told me that she'd trapped six of them and taken them to the Animal Care League where they were named after Blackhawks players and quickly adopted out. She even knew Socks, but called her Boots!
I nearly wept as Terri flipped through an album filled with photos of cats that I'd been feeding and Terri had successfully trapped, neutered and released back into their environment. This method, referred to as TNR, is key to maintaining a healthy cat colony. Caretakers can then focus on the health and feeding of the adult cats without kittens expanding the colony every year.
My cats are an offshoot of the "Whiskers" Colony, a group of cats discovered by Mark and Michelle Rogovin in an apartment building parking lot last summer. They called Terri, who had experience with cats, and the three of them trapped a mother and her kittens. The C.A.T.S. program came together after they approached Tom Van Winkle of the Animal Care League.
At Sundaes for Strays, Tom explained to me that last fall, a Cook County ordinance passed allowing people to maintain colonies of stray cats as long as they are registered and follow specific guidelines as caretakers. You can contact Tom at (708) 848-8155 to register as a caretaker and gain access to the Animal Care League's TNR resources. They recently received a grant from PetSmart to purchase more traps as well as expand their hours for doing free feral cat surgeries.
Tom believes strongly in TNR because "the whole community can get involved. Animal Control can do it, but that is just one person. If many individuals take part, we can help a lot more cats."
In a town the size of Forest Park, there could be as many as 6,000 cats living on our streets, but through TNR, we'll be able to get a more accurate idea of the numbers and stop population growth.
While the villages of Oak Park and River Forest provide funding to Animal Care League, Forest Park does not, so C.A.T.S. for Forest Park fills a much needed hole. Their volunteers put on fundraisers and manage existing cat colonies around town, feeding and trapping cats and fostering kittens. If you'd like to help this amazing community organization as a volunteer or make a donation, you should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I've already seen the difference it can make in my neighborhood. Instead of 15 kittens roaming my alley like last year, there is only one and we hope to trap and neuter him soon!
Stephanie is the author of "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" and "Ballads of Suburbia." She's a proud Forest Parker who holds a master's in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.