Friends donate time to controlling Mt. Morris feral cat population

Funds sought to spay, neuter felines as part of catch-and-release program

MT. MORRIS — Friends Melinda Cox and Dr. Emily Schier once again are setting out to help decrease the feral cat population in the village of Mt. Morris.

Their plan is not to relocate the cats, but to trap, sterilize and vaccinate the felines before releasing them in the area where they were picked up. It’s a process commonly called trap-neuter-return, or trap-neuter-vaccinate-return — TNR or TNVR for short.

“Cats, they’ve got a colony … (and) they prefer not to let another cat in until one leaves,” said Cox, a Mt. Morris resident. “That’s why it’s a catch-and-release. We want to keep them in their colonies so other ones don’t come (into the vacated area).”

Cox estimated there currently are, at the least, 50 or 60 feral cats in Mt. Morris.

She and Schier, a veterinarian, utilized this program about three years ago, Cox said. They put roughly 70 cats through the program at a cost of about $100 per female and $85 per male.

Schier spays or neuters the cats, eartip’s them — surgically removing the tip of their ear to indicate at a distance that they’ve been TNR’d — vaccinates for rabies and treats any other ailments they’re suffering from, Cox said. She added that Schier charges the village only for product-used, as both women donate their time.

Because the goal is to control breeding, it’s a program that takes a while to really catch, Village President Phil Labash said.

He doesn’t feel the village has a “widespread” feral cat problem, Labash said. However, there are “pockets” with higher populations, and it is something officials get complaints about, he said.

“It’s not a cat problem, it’s a people problem,” Labash said. “When people feed them, they’re creating this concentration of feral cats.

“From my perspective, I’m thankful we’ve got someone who’s willing to step up and be part of the solution and donate time and efforts to controlling that population,” he continued. “It’s a benefit to the community.”

Last year, the city of Polo passed an ordinance that included fines for people feeding cats outdoors and limited the number of animals that can be “owned” to four. It also changed the definition of the word “owner” to mean that, if a person “feeds or harbors” a cat, they are the owner.

A cat that lives outside year-round has a typical lifespan of seven- to 10 years and can produce around 100 kittens in that time, Cox said.

That statistic was put forth by Carl Bailik — the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy” — in an Oct. 12, 2006, column.

“You can’t catch every cat in town — that’s impossible,” Cox said. “But every one you catch can deplete the amount.”

Labash agreed.

“That’s why the program is so important,” he said. “Because if you don’t control it (the feral cat population) early, it can really explode. Then it’s not pockets, it’s across the whole community.”

On June 22, Cox went before Mt. Morris village trustees to request funding for the medical portion of the program.

Labash said trustees approved spending up to $1,000 on the program. It’s on an as-needed basis, and they may not spend all of it, he said.

People are able to donate toward the program by visiting Mt. Morris Village Hall at 105 W. Lincoln St., Mt. Morris, IL 61054.

“We didn’t want to take the money and have people think we’re doing other things with it,” Cox said of collecting donations. “If we can get the funds for it, we can do as many cats as possible.”

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner covers Ogle County for the Oregon Republican Reporter, Forreston Journal, Mt. Morris Times and Polo Tri-County Press. She has six-plus years of experience in journalism and has won numerous awards.