Project Humane Polo still focused on helping city’s stray and feral cats

TNVR group seeking homes for Calliope, who was abandoned, and two of her kittens

Calliope, a 2-year-old tuxedo cat, is up for adoption from Project Humane Polo.

POLO – It was early April when Project Humane Polo was alerted to a cat roaming around one of the city’s neighborhoods, meowing at doors.

“Some people were feeding her, some people were mad that she was there,” said Ashley Rinehart, a co-founder of Project Humane Polo. “This whole neighborhood was in, like, an uproar.”

After talking to some residents, one person was able to hold on to the cat – a 2-year-old tuxedo now named Calliope – until Rinehart arrived to take her.

“My intention was to get her, put her up here [in my foster room] and find out if she belongs to somebody because we never just take a cat and do everything without trying to find out who they belong to,” Rinehart said.

Project Humane Polo doesn’t deal with owned pets in any way, and it goes to great lengths to make sure cats it picks up are unowned, she said.

After spreading pictures of Calliope on social media, Project Humane Polo got confirmation that her former owner no longer wanted her, Rinehart said. The plan then became to foster Calliope until a new home was found, she said.

Founded in August 2020 by Rinehart, Cheryl Galor and Pam Shore, Project Humane Polo uses a process known as trap-neuter-return or trap-neuter-vaccinate-return – TNR or TNVR for short. It involves trapping, sterilizing and vaccinating community cats before returning them to the area where they were picked up.

It’s a process Project Humane Polo has gone through with more than 100 cats so far, Rinehart said. Additionally, they’ve fostered and homed about 60 cats and kittens.

“That wasn’t our normal intentions, but we kind of took a veer off into [fostering],” Rinehart said. “We’ve made a lot of people happy, a lot of kittens happy, a lot of cats happy with adoptions.”

Rinehart, Galor and Shore created Project Humane Polo in response to an ordinance passed by City Council members July 6, 2020.

The ordinance introduced fines for 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 include a person “harboring or keeping any animal.”

Feeding or sheltering an animal for three or more consecutive days constitutes harboring an animal, according to the ordinance.

“People had some not-so-humane solutions to [Polo’s community cat population], and we wanted to be a humane solution,” Rinehart said. “We wanted to improve the lives of the cats, as well as improve the lives of citizens of Polo.”

Stray cats are socialized – meaning friendly toward humans – whereas feral cats are not, according to the website of Alley Cat Allies, an advocacy organization headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.

Laws regarding feral and stray cats differ from municipality to municipality, which is why Project Humane Polo works only within Polo, Rinehart said.

“We’re three women trying to do the best we can for the kitties,” she said.

The plan to find Calliope a new home changed when they took her to be spayed and discovered she was pregnant, Rinehart said.

On June 6, Calliope gave birth to six healthy kittens: Opie, Onyx, Otis, Octavia, Odette and Olivia.

“She was an amazing mom. Awesome mom,” Rinehart said. “Everything was smooth sailing up until July 4.”

Calliope had to be rushed to an emergency animal clinic in Rockford, where she ended up staying for a few days, Rinehart said. Tests later revealed that she had toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is a common infection caused by a parasite that, usually, is fought off by the immune system without any symptoms appearing, according to However, people or animals who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems can have more serious cases.

Infections usually last a few weeks, and most humans and animals become immune afterward, according to the website.

Calliope and her babies had to be separated – she was too weak to feed them, and they couldn’t risk the kittens getting sick, Rinehart said. The sudden separation, however, led to Calliope also getting mastitis because her milk had nowhere to go, Rinehart said.

“Eventually, with the right antibiotics, she rallied and got much better,” Rinehart said. “She’s been toxoplasmosis-free since the end of July, and her mastitis is completely cleared up. … Now, she’s 100% healthy.”

Rinehart extended a giant thank you to all those who donated to help cover Calliope’s vet costs, which totaled about $2,500 when all was said and done.

“We were able to fund it through all of our donations, and we are so thankful to people,” she said. “I would have put myself into debt because there’s no way I was going to let her die.”

Today, Calliope loves playing with her toy snake, cuddling and lying in the sunshine, Rinehart said. She’s very earnest, adaptable and not skittish.

After everything, she wanted to adopt Calliope herself, Rinehart said, but it turned out that Calliope doesn’t get along well with other animals. Calliope is great with kids but needs a home without dogs or other cats, said Rinehart, who already has a few cats.

Project Humane Polo is focused on finding Calliope and her two unadopted kittens – Onyx and Odette – their forever homes, Rinehart said. All three are sterilized and up to date on their shots, she said.

“We can’t foster more cats until the kittens and Calliope are adopted,” she said.

Project Humane Polo is a TNVR group first and foremost, not a shelter, Rinehart said. Its limited space, combined with the fact that it doesn’t mix different groups of cats within that space, means it can’t care for any others until Calliope, Onyx and Odette are adopted, Rinehart said.

People have to fill out an application to adopt from Project Humane Polo, and there is an $80 adoption fee, Rinehart said. However, the animals come fixed, vaccinated and microchipped, and all medical care up until that point is covered.

Project Humane Polo typically spends about $300 to $350 on each cat’s medical care before adoption, she said.

The application is very similar to what one would see at a shelter, Rinehart said. It asks questions such as the number of people in the household; whether the home is rented or owned – renters have to provide a letter from their landlord noting they’re allowed to have animals; veterinarian and character references; whether other pets are up to date on their shots; if there are plans to declaw the cats; and more.

Project Humane Polo does not allow people who plan to declaw to adopt from them, Rinehart said. They also require that the cats be kept as indoor animals and that owners not allow them to freely wander outdoors.

Once an applicant and their references speak to Rinehart, Galor or Shore, they’ll set up a meet-and-greet with the cat, Rinehart said. If all goes well at the meet-and-greet, a time will be set for the new owner to pick up the cat after it has been fixed, she said.

Rinehart said that someone would have a good shot at being able to adopt “if your household is going to be safe and loving and accommodating to a kitty.”

Call Project Humane Polo at 815-627-6508, email or visit its Facebook page.

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner reports on Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties for Shaw Media out of the Dixon office. Previously, she worked for the Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Michigan, and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.