There are thousands of cats living in Forest Park, and many of them are strays living in feral cat colonies. That’s according to Terri J. Woods, the co-founder of CATS for Forest Park, a volunteer program sponsored by the Animal Care League of Oak Park aimed at humanely caring for these strays.

Woods has recruited four colony caretakers to make sure these colonists have adequate food and water, but their ultimate goal is to trap, neuter and release the feral cats. In the past year, they have taken about a hundred strays off the streets of Forest Park.

With summer approaching, Woods sees an even more pressing need to address Forest Park’s stray-cat problem:  it’s the busiest season for feral cats to bear kittens. It’s also the time of year when cat owners let their felines out to enjoy the warm weather. As a result, some of these house cats end up impregnated, which can lead to cat over-population, Woods said. To prevent this, Woods is spearheading an effort to have Forest Parkers register, neuter and microchip their cats.

A Cook County ordinance prohibits cat owners from letting their animals roam off their properties; there is also language in the county’s Animal License Application that requires vaccination certification. Nonetheless, strays in Forest Park still abound.

To get the word out to residents about Forest Park’s feral cats, Woods turned to Village Administrator Tim Gillian. Woods expressed concern that the village doesn’t have a holding facility for strays, to which Gillian responded by suggesting that the village contract with the Animal Care League to use its facilities. Woods said Gillian also agreed to include a “CATS for Forest Park” brochure in the next batch of water bills.  

“I was very pleased with my meeting with Tim,” Woods said, “If we love our pets and feel a responsibility to Forest Park, we should care for our cats properly.” In Woods’ view, this means neutering, vaccinating and inserting a microchip in the felines, in case they’re lost. The alternative to the latter measure is to keep cats locked indoors at all times, Woods noted.

Complying with Woods’ recommendations does come with a cost, though. According to Pet Vets Animal Hospital in Oak Park, it would typically cost $450 to $500 for a female, and about $350 for a male. However, Woods believes this greatly improves the quality of the cat’s life.

“Cats who are neutered or spayed have improved temperaments,” Woods said, “They are healthier and happier.” Best of all, they don’t fight other animals or spray.

Woods hopes more Forest Park cat owners will get on board. She’s also looking for more colony caretakers and has already held two informational meetings. She believes that “sympathetic residents” who think they are helping stray cats by feeding them are actually contributing to the feral colonies. It would be better if these people became caretakers and heeded her suggestions.

CATS recently received a $10,000 grant from PetSmart to care for colonies and launch a trap-neuter-return program. This grant will expire in the Fall, so anyone interested in participating can either call Woods at 708 932 5436, or the Animal Care League at 708 848 8155.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.