The Wild Cats of Shrewsbury
Most cities and towns have a feral cat population; Shrewsbury worked to control this years ago.
When Leona Pease started at Shrewsbury's animal control officer three years ago, there were some 30 calls of kittens that were being born and people's back yards. Within those past three years, there has now been one call per year of kittens being born in people's back yards.
As Lt. Alan Borgal of the Boston Animal Rescue League said, "Leona has Shrewsbury cleaned up of feral cats."
Pease quickly became aware of a "cat problem" when she first started that was rooted in the Janet Circle area. At that time, the Second Chance Fund for Animal Welfare was working with the building department to set up its shelter on Brook Street, and welcomed her along to help trap cats.
"I stayed inside the house so that I would not scare the cats," said Pease, "and the lady who was sent along to 'train' me walked around the back yard calling the cats and making meowing sounds. Needless to say, we not only did not catch any cats, we did not even see any of the cats."
Later, Lease took matters into her own hands and set up traps, hiding in the house. She had the feeder call the cats and then come inside, watching from the window as the cats came into the yard and some of them went right into the traps.
"I was hooked," she said.
Since that first trapping, Pease spent the next six years actively trapping anywhwere and everywhere she got the call. There have been about 10 to 15 pockets of feral cats with anyone from four to 40 cats in each colony.
"Each time I learned of an area," she said, "I went in and systematically trapped taht area until every cat was ear tipped. Once the colony is ear tipped, I consider them a managed colony and they are no longer a problem to the citizens of the town."
The humane way to handle a feral cat problem is through Trap Neuter and Return (TNR). Colonies of cats, small or big, often have caregivers who have been feeding them. First, Pease connects with that caregiver to find out where the cats are fed, and works with the caregiver to stop feeing cats 24 hours before she arrives with the traps.
"I put the traps out where they are used to being fed," said Pease. "Once a cat goes into the trap, it is covered with a sheet and moved to a safe place. ONce we have trapped as many cats as we can for the day, they are brought to a safe place and held overnight. The next day, the cats in teh traps are loaded into my car and brought to a feral cat clinic."
At the clinic, the cats are given a shot of anethstesia, examined, and then brought to other vets to be sterilized. At that point, the tip of the cat's ear is cut straight across so others know the cat has already been "fixed." Before they awake, they are also inoculated for rabies and distemper and treated for ear mites and fleas.
"All of us who work the clinics are volunteers," she said. "The caregivers usually are happy to have help for their cats, but I have the added ability as Animal Control Officer to explain that I can get the cats neutered and get them a rabies shot, or I can give them a $50 ticket for each cat that they are feeding. That is usually the incentive enough for compliance with TNR."
Groups that Pease commonly works with in the TNR program include the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society, Commonwealth Cats and Tufts University.
"There is a relatively new group in Worcester called Spay Worcester," added Pease. "It was the dream child of Karen Powers, who thought that if we gridded off the city and neutered all the free roaming and feral cats in each grid, teh cat problem in Worcester might be able to be brought under control."
Two years ago, when introduced to Powers, she immediately asked her to be the co-chair of Spay Worcester, adding, "You are my hero."
Working closely with Spay Worcester, over the past two years the group has neutered 1,200 cats. This was made possible by grants from Petsmart Charities and a grant obatained by Dr. Emily McCobb of Tufts University and the Massachusetts Animal Coalition.
With Powers' connections and city government, and Pease's "thinking out of the box" nature, not only do they provide neutering for feral cats, but also cats who are owned by their humans.