Fixin' Felines at the Fire Hall

Sundae Horn
Samantha Sutton, Ocracats volunteer
Samantha Sutton, Ocracats volunteer

According to the Humane Society, fifty million feral cats roam free

in the United States. Between a thousand and twelve hundred of them do so on Ocracoke, says Micky Baker of Ocracats. She and Carmie Prete track the cat colonies on the island and keep statistics about their numbers and locations.

There are Post Office kitties and marsh kitties and harbor kitties. Many live and breed near the restaurants and businesses along Hwy. 12. Ocracats is a non-profit organization that helps to feed and care for the feral felines, and find them homes. More importantly, they work diligently to keep the cat population from growing exponentially. As their website puts it, “Despite the success of the adoption program, the fact remains that the most effective way to control our feral cat population is through large-scale on-island Trap Neuter Release clinics.”

On January 21, Ocracats sponsored one of four spay/neuter clinics planned for 2012, and two in 2013. Veterinarians Stephen Sampson and Christinia Hicks from Coastal Animal Hospital brought their mobile van unit to the Fire Hall and set up shop.

The day before, Ocracats volunteers had trapped as many cats as they could entice (really stinky cat food is reported to be the best bait), and had over sixty of them ready and waiting for surgery. The good doctors, along with two vet technicians, kept the assembly line going from 9 a.m. ‘til 4 p.m – cats in, cats out – while the Ocracats volunteers kept the kitties as warm, calm and comfortable as possible.

Cat city.
Cat city.

The fire trucks parked outside, making way for the cages and cat carriers spread all over the Fire Hall floor. (Are you wondering what would happen if there was a fire? Fear not. The Ocracats volunteers and the volunteer firefighters had thought of everything – an emergency contingency plan was well in place.) Coverings of burlap, plastic tarps and old towels kept the cats warm and hidden from each other. (“It keeps them calm, so they won’t get all shock-y,” said clinic co-coordinator Rita Thiel.) The cats wait in cages for their turn in the van, and then recover from surgery in cat carriers. Some of the cats were picked up by the kind souls who trapped them (and most likely feed them, too) to recover closer to home, but many were going to spend the night at the Fire Hall. In the morning, after all the effects of anesthesia had worn off, they would be released where they were found.

Volunteers arrived at 8:30 a.m. One of the first, and hardest working, was 4th grader Samantha Sutton. She was there ALL day. Her duties were to carry the cats back and forth to the van, to cover the cages and carriers with tarps, and to help with tracking and labeling the kitties and cages.

She also helped with the not-so-glamorous jobs. “I'll clean up the pee-pee newspapers,” she said. “But I leave cleaning out the cages to my mom – [the cats] go to the bathroom and it’s not pretty.”

Claudia Moote brought two kitties to the Fire Hall. Claudia already has four cats, but she agreed last November to foster two Post Office kittens rescued by Ocracats. She was supposed to care for them and get them used to people so they’d be adoptable. As she anxiously awaited their surgeries, she admitted she was a goner.

“Giving them away now doesn’t look like it’s happening,” she said. Yay! Ocrakittens found a home!

This clinic and three more scheduled this year are being paid for by a grant from Petsmart Charities. Ocracats board member Connie Leinbach wrote the grant under the aegis of Ocracoke Foundation.

“Ocracats isn’t big enough to apply for the grant ourselves,” said president Ruth Fordon. “So we did it through Ocracoke Foundation, with Robin Payne as administrator.”

Because of the grant, and the admirable efforts of volunteers, 37 male kitties will be meowing a couple of octaves higher and 36 females will be able to resist the advances of the handsome toms.

Vet tech Kayla Shertzer demonstrates that all is well with this recovering kitty.
Vet tech Kayla Shertzer demonstrates that all is well with this recovering kitty.

With the grant money, Ocracats bought fifty traps and ten carriers. The grant also pays the veterinarians to come for four clinics, and to spay or neuter a projected 220 cats this year. Ocracats gets a special surgery rate from Coastal Animal Hospital, and if the need arises, they can take a cat to Coastal between clinics for the same great deal.

Hyde County got in on the clinic this year, too, providing free rabies shots for each captured cat.

In 2010, Ocracats received a grant from Outer Banks Community Foundation for spay/neuter clinics. That year, they prevented 300 cats from procreating. Each fixed feline gets a notch in its ear – an easy marker for the cat trappers to look for.

On March 3rd and May 5th, the mobile vets of Coastal Animal Hospital will be back for more. Another clinic will be scheduled for the fall.

One big yellow tomcat managed to escape between the Fire Hall and van. He had looked a little dazed and confused in the fire hall, but when he saw the light of day, he busted out of the cage, hit the ground running and was across Back Road and gone in seconds. No doubt he’s the pater familias of a big colony and will regale the youngens with the story of his daring escape. We can only hope he’s dumb enough to fall for the bait the next time the clinic rolls into town.

Help is alway needed.
Help is alway needed.

Ocracats president Ruth Fordon would like to thank:

The Pony Island Restaurant for providing breakfast for the vets, techs and volunteers.

Jennifer Rich for providing lunch to same.

The OVFD for use of the Fire Hall.

Hyde County for the rabies shots.

Melinda Sutton and Pat Garber for coordinating the trapping efforts.

Rita Thiel and Gael Hawkins for coordinating the clinic.

Connie Leinbach and Robin Payne for the grant.

Mickey Baker and Carmie Prete for the paperwork.

All the volunteers who helped.

Ocracats accepts donations and collects spare change in jars around the island. They use the money to feed the colonies and deal with medical problems. 

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