Too many stray cats a concern

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Tammi, an adult female tabby cat, is just one of the friendly felines Crawford Area Shelter for Animals took in last fall. According to Dhjana Franson, of CASA, Tammi is still available for adoption. For more information about her, visit her Petfinder page:

Crisse Reynolds is Crawford County’s first state-certified humane officer, appointed by the county board in October. She, along with a number of area resources, have been working together to decrease the overpopulation of stray and feral cats in the county.

Professionals push spaying, neutering

By Correne Martin

The overpopulation of stray and feral cats in Crawford County has led to frustration and concern for residents, veterinary clinics and county officials. Unprecedented numbers of unwanted cats are being taken in by the Crawford Area Shelter for Animals (CASA), local vet clinics and sympathetic volunteers connected to the Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter (RABAS) effort. Though such havens are overcrowded and underfunded for these in-kind services, each resource is determined to work where it can toward lessening this public nuisance and providing avenues through which the public can help as well.

The root of the problem is a real lack of spaying and neutering, according to a number of local sources. These professionals believe the issue stems from a combination of low-income citizens who can’t afford to spay and neuter and the absence of public awareness about sterilization importance.

According to, the single most important thing the public can do to save cats and dogs from all the suffering and death that their overpopulation causes is to spay and neuter them. Spaying and neutering can prevent thousands of animals from being born, who may suffer and struggle to survive on the streets, be abused by cruel or neglectful people, or be euthanized in animal shelters for lack of a loving home.

PETA statistics report that, in seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce approximately 370,000 kittens.

“It all comes back to that. An ounce of prevention prevents a pound of cure,” said Dr. Jami Quick, co-owner of Tender Care Animal Hospital in Prairie du Chien.

“Making the one-time investment of getting a cat spayed or neutered can save thousands of homeless cats’ lives,” stated Dhjana Franson, coordinator of CASA, based in rural Ferryville.

The calls regarding stray or feral cats living under trailer houses, in abandoned buildings or being dropped off at someone’s property are never-ending, according to local sources.

One day last fall, over the course of seven hours, CASA fielded calls about 17 cats needing a home. “One woman from Iowa had 10 cats show up at her house. She had them in a crate and was ready to bring them to me,” Franson explained. “It wasn’t just a mom and her litter; it was the kittens’ litters and beyond. In situations like that, whose problem is it?

Bev Pozega, vice-president of RABAS, had three calls about stray cats just last Wednesday. “I get calls all the time of kittens out in the cold. I try to help where I can,” she said. On another occasion, Pozega heard from a friend who had six cats show up at her patio. “I told her, ‘If you don’t do something, you’re going to have 100 cats by the spring.’”

Pozega, who teaches local dog obedience classes, donates proceeds from the classes to regional shelters and organizations who offer low-cost spaying and neutering.

“Just recently, for $87, we had three cats receive FIV shots, rabies and distemper shots and get spayed or neutered,” she said. “It was a happy ending.”

In Prairie du Chien, Southwest Vet has contracts with the city, as well as Marquette and McGregor, to board stray animals. Through these agreements, the cities subsidize the cost of care and food for seven days or until the owner picks up the animal. (Typically, owners are responsible for all costs upon pick-up.)

According to Prairie du Chien City Administrator Aaron Kramer, the city pays between $2,000 and $4,000 per year in animal boarding costs to Southwest Vet. “They cost money but we have to take care of them,” he stated.

After seven days, the vet clinic either accepts the cost of continued housing for animals not reunited with owners, or the animals are euthanized. “The police leave the final decision (about animal welfare) up to us,” said Dr. Sarah Holler, of Southwest Vet. “If it’s a really good animal, sometimes we’ll have them three to four weeks until we can find a home. We have a lot of luck finding farmers who need mousers.”

Tender Care Animal Hospital also provides a temporary home pretty regularly for strays. “We’re not an animal shelter, but we help out as much as we can,” Dr. Jami said, noting that her office receives calls about stray cats daily. “We would love to take in every single cat that needs a home, but our clients and patients are our number one priority.”

Crawford County’s first state-certified humane officer, Crisse Reynolds, who was appointed by the county board Oct. 21 but was paid part-time/on-call previously, receives calls almost daily about stray cats as well. “First of all, dumping animals is illegal,” she advised. “If you have unwanted animals, you need to be calling shelters or getting them spayed and neutered in the first place. There are ways to take care of them, rather than setting them out in a field to get chased by coyotes.”

One of the initial programs Reynolds started as county humane officer is a trap/neuter/rehome program. In cooperation with Alter-Ations, a volunteer-based, low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Viroqua, the sheriff’s office started this service to help deal with the feral and stray cats in Crawford County. Through the program, citizens are asked to contact the sheriff’s office at 326-8414 if there are strays that need to be picked up. Then, about once a month or as funds are available, Reynolds takes about six strays to Alter-Ations’ CATsNIP Clinic. These cats must be considered eligible for placement at farms willing to provide shelter, food and water.

Although Alter-Ations is open to anyone in the Coulee Region, it focuses its services on low-income citizens, students, farmers and multiple cat caretakers. The clinic is able to provide a low-cost helping hand because it is staffed mostly by volunteers (with a few local, licensed veterinarians who are paid). It is funded through program fees, donations, fundraisers and grants.

“We encourage people, if they can afford to go to a regular veterinarian, to do so,” said Kate Bonny, of Alter-Ations.

At Tender Care, Dr. Jami and her staff provide a low-cost cat neuter clinic every spring. During this event, the staff volunteers its time and anesthetic and drugs are donated.

“There are other benefits to spaying and neutering,” Quick explained. “If you do it before the animal’s first heat cycle, there’s no chance of it getting mammary cancer. Also, the animal has a better chance of not developing life threatening infections that could cost a lot more. If that happens, your $200 spay turns into a $500 or $600 spay and it’s a lot riskier circumstance.”

At Southwest Vet, spaying and neutering makes up for a large number of the clinic’s surgeries, Dr. Sarah noted.

“Thankfully, about 90 percent of our customers who get a new pet actually spay and neuter,” she said. “We definitely encourage it every time we can. We don’t charge an arm and a leg for spaying and neutering, but we can’t do it for free either. I hope people realize that we, as vets, really care. If anyone ever started a low-cost program in town, I’d be more than willing to volunteer.”

One of the most difficult alternatives to spaying, neutering, sheltering and rehoming cats is the publicly common suggested solution of killing them. According to Bonny, the act of catching and killing can be just as costly to taxpayers as supporting spaying and neutering efforts. Cats will congregate wherever there is food and shelter, she said. Therefore, when a population of cats is removed, other cats will move in—and the cycle continues.

“But if you spay and neuter a colony of cats, they will not reproduce and, at the same time, others will stay out,” Bonny commented.

Last year, from May through December, the humane officer took in 41 cats that were trapped, surrendered or at-risk strays (pregnant, kittens, injured, etc.). Of those, Reynolds said, 15 were directly rehomed (either they were already neutered or the recipient altered them at their own expense), four were surrendered to Tabby Town in Westby, five went to Coulee Region Humane Society (where nearly all received needed medical treatment), and 11 were entered into the sheriff’s office’s trap/neuter/rehome program. Seven of those were altered in late December at Alter-Ations and subsequently placed on three area farms. The remainder are in foster homes waiting for the next Alter-Ations appointment (or in the case of kittens, waiting to be old enough to be altered).

Anyone interested in donating toward this cat spaying and neutering effort should contact the sheriff’s office at 326-8414.

Another tool that’s proven useful for the county is the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, where Reynolds posts information about animals picked up through the humane officer program.
“A number of cats—two dozen or more—were aided by my posting for new homes, returned to owners, or referred to shelters and altering programs,” Reynolds said. “The network we are building locally is helpful. The more we get the word out about these animals, the more good we can do.”

While it’s clear there are devoted people working toward a solution for the stray and feral cat problem in Crawford County, these needy animals can be very difficult and emotional to deal with.

“It’s not the cat’s fault, it’s just trying to survive,” Dr. Jami said. “People need to take some responsibility. We’re here to help where we can. We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t care as much as we do.”

“Cats have been living with us for thousands of years. They originally came to America, on sailors’ ships, to take care of the mice and rats that carried disease. But the cat population is a concern to citizens, so we know there’s too many,” Bonny added. “The only thing we know that works is spaying and neutering and that’s the only way we can all work together toward a solution.”

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