POINT PLEASANT — A non-profit organization in Jackson County which assists in curbing the feral feline population wants to establish a similar group in Mason County.
Members of Operation Fancy Free (OFF), a registered 501(c)(3), spoke Thursday about their organization at the regular meeting of the Mason County Commission.
Kathy Stone, who co-founded the group with her husband, said OFF believes a trap-neuter-return system is the most humane and effective method to control the feral cat overpopulation crisis. Trained members of the organization humanely trap feral cats and take them to a local vet in Jackson County to be spayed or neutered, given a rabies shot and are tagged by a slight clip to the ear to identify them as having been vetted. This service is funded through donations and grant money.
Stone said to date, OFF volunteers have trapped, neutered (or spayed), and released 912 cats since it began in 2013. Included in these numbers were 423 males and 480 females, preventing literally thousands of new, feral kittens from being born. Stone said the program has been so effective that there has only been one litter of kittens turned into the Jackson County Animal Shelter this month, which is a time of year when litters of kittens are consistently being born.
Stone said the group does not trap these feral cats from one place and then they are never seen again. She said they are returned to their feral cat colony but returned without the ability to reproduce. The group also fosters and adopts cats when possible but the main objective is to stem the reproduction of these animals which often, at least in Jackson County, Stone said end up in shelters.
Stone told County Administrator John Gerlach the cats were returned to their cat colony or location where they were living, after being vetted because relocating them to a place or environment they have never been, didn’t seem to work and they will attempt to get back to what or where, they know. She said feral cats who are spayed or neutered, besides having the inability to reproduce, fight less, and therefore stop the spread of other feline disease. She said it also curbs urine spraying some cats do to mark territories. Though these undomesticated cats are returned to the habitat they understand, Stone said the colony is no longer growing. So, for example, a colony may be returned to an alleyway but in six months, there won’t be dozens more in that colony and the ones that are there will be healthier. These dividends will pay over time, Stone explained.
Stone said OFF wants to establish a chapter and provide a similar service in Mason County but needs volunteers and possibly a local vet in the area to assist with the vetting of the cats. Volunteers would be trained in trapping and caring for these feral cats. Stone said she needs donations or seed money as well and had applied for a grant through the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation to establish a group in Mason County. However, the grant was denied because the group wasn’t formed, yet, but her re-application to the grant money is pending if there is interest in the group in Mason County. She also said she has spoken to the Claflin Foundation about funding as well for the new chapter of OFF.
Stone didn’t ask the commissioners for anything but their support in the cause and getting the word out. Commissioner Rick Handley, on behalf of the commission, offered to write the group a formal letter of support to help with grant funding.
Commission President Tracy Doolittle said she saw no reason why the group couldn’t try their program here with the commission’s blessing.
Mason County Dog Warden Gary Trout and Mason County Animal Shelter Manager Betty Neville were also in attendance for the meeting and had no objections to the group being established in Mason County. The Mason County Animal Shelter works with animal rescue groups to save the lives of those brought into the shelter, but a humane alternative to prevent more animals from coming into the shelter, especially feral cats who sometimes cannot be domesticated for adoption, seemed to be a welcome solution.
For more information on the program or volunteering, call 304-531-8710, or 304-372-1303, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to its website at www.operationfancyfree.weebly.com, or find it on Facebook by searching Operation Fancy Free.
Reach Beth Sergent at email@example.com or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.