The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 13, 2010

Pupils help feral felines

200 cats trapped, spayed, neutered in past year

SUNBURY — The cat who came to school on Susquehanna Avenue left with a name and a legacy.

It was a year ago, and the homeless tabby found the right group of kids – students at 5 Star school, a specialized therapeutic day program for children with behavioral or socio-emotional needs.

They took care of the cat, named her “Star” — after their school — and decided they wanted to help other street cats.

“We couldn’t stop,” said 5 Star’s administrative assistant, Tina Campbell.

They did their research and found a program to emulate — the TNR program founded about 20 years ago.

It was a humane answer to the problem of homeless cats. TNR stands for Trap-Neuter-Return.

With a burgeoning feral cat population, Sunbury was long overdue for such a program, Campbell said.

“It’s epidemic,” she said.

Well-meaning people feed homeless cats, she said, but if they don’t go a step further and have them spayed or neutered, feeding them will just increase the population.

In the past year, Campbell said, five friends and the students have trapped more than 200 cats in Sunbury and had them spayed and neutered and given rabies shots.

Homes are usually found for kittens, and they learn to adapt to living with humans. The older cats won’t adapt. They remain wary of humans. They are released back into their old neighborhoods.

But they have their rabies shots and won’t reproduce.

Dr. Beverly Shaw, a Sunbury Animal Hospital veterinarian, said it’s a very  positive step. She agreed that Sunbury has an excessive number of stray cats.

“Overrrun,” she said, “and it’s been an issue for decades.”

Homeless cats are a health risk to other cats and people, she said. Non-vaccinated, they can transmit rabies to other cats and humans.

“People don’t fear cats,” she said, “while they might be more alert around a raccoon.”

The children at 5 Star raised money to have Star-the-cat spayed and found her a home.

Since then, they have found some people willing to sponsor the cats’ treatments and others who help with fundraisers, Campbell said.

The children help with the upkeep of the garage that has been donated as their makeshift shelter.

The students get a lot of joy from being able to work with the cats and kittens, she said.

One boy, Tim, has become a regular “cat whisperer,” she said.

Campbell takes groups of cats and kittens to the SNAP veterinary clinic in Harrisburg where they are fixed — $50 for females and $30 for males.

No one can do it for that little, Shaw said, without being subsidized.

Campbell said she couldn’t find a program that offers such financial support in the Central Susquehanna Valley.

Meanwhile, she said, fundraising for the little program must continue. She took 14 cats to Harrisburg last week, she said, and some of them needed extra care for things like upper respiratory ailments.

Sometimes the cats have other issues that need medical treatment and that can be costly.

Campbell said their program is also in need of cat and kitten food, of course, and blankets, small animal traps and large cages.

Saturday, she points out, is National Feral Cat Day.

According to online sources, the day, always celebrated Oct. 16, was started by Alley Cat Allies of Bethesda, Md., the group that spearheaded the TNR movement.

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