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Nonprofit aims to reduce area’s wild cat population

Even though St. Croix County can have bitter winters, free-roaming cats abound, and Tanya Borg and the volunteers of Farm, Feral & Stray aim to alleviate the problem.

FFS is a nonprofit (501-c3), all-volunteer organization whose goal is to humanely manage free-roaming cat populations by using Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) methods and to educate the public. The organization serves Polk, St. Croix and Washburn counties.

Borg said each county has thousands of cats running loose, whether they’re farm, feral, stray or abandoned cats. She estimates there are 1.4 million free-roaming cats living in colonies in Wisconsin alone.

“They’re making more kittens than we can find homes for,” Borg said. “Believe it or not, cats adapt very well to our environment.”

FFS started in May 2011 under the guidance of another nonprofit group, Cat Town Rescue. Borg said FFS doesn’t have a building, so volunteers work out of their homes. Many volunteers foster animals to help socialize them for adoption.

According to Borg, their organization has spayed/neutered at least 450 cats and found homes for 45 since it began its mission.

FFS’s hope is to gradually reduce the number of kittens born through spaying/neutering, plus to reduce the number of cats in the wild by getting them fixed and adopted.

Borg worked for 20 years for veterinarian Marcy Armstrong in Star Prairie, and said she “started putting two and two together back then.”

According to Borg, most Humane Societies don’t have TNR programs. TNR is a method in which free-roaming cats are caught, taken to a vet who offers reduced rates on spaying, neutering and vaccinations and are then released back into the environment.

They are released back where they were found, unless adopted, because the fixed cats keep other feral cats out of their territories, therefore hopefully reducing the number of cats in an area, Borg said.

TNR is more humane than euthanasia, Borg said. She also believes TNR is a better answer because if cats are killed, new feral cats from other areas will just move in and take their places.

Borg said a mother cat can have up to four litters of kittens a year, with five to nine kittens per litter.

Process of TNR

Many times, FFS will receive a call from someone who has been caring for a cat colony or knows of one, who is requesting help in stopping the cats from multiplying, Borg said.

“There is a 42 percent kitten mortality rate, but that is still a lot of kittens each year that survive to breed themselves as early as four months of age,” Borg said. “Then we either teach the caregiver how to trap and bring the cat to the designated veterinary clinic for the surgery. Or, groups of volunteers will set up traps and take the them to either a clinic or to a mobile unit (only one we have available is from the Twin Cities), so we have to drive them over there and back again.”

Eventually, FFS would like to obtain a mobile unit of its own through a grant. Currently, one is available out of Duluth, and the other out of the Madison/Milwaukee area.

She attributed the growing free-roaming cat population to one of several factors in this county: farmers selling their land for housing developments.

She said often times when a farm is sold, the cats that used to patrol the barns for mice are displaced from their homes, so they go to the new housing developments where people may take them in. More often, people don’t adopt them, but will feel sorry for them and set out food.

“American people are compassionate when it comes to companion animals,” Borg said.

According to Borg, FFS began by receiving referrals from vet clinics. The clinics, 27 in Polk and St. Croix Counties, told FFS of uncontrolled cat colonies they had heard of, or of people who were helping free-roaming cats.

Since most of the cats are not owned by anyone, there is no owner to pay the cost of the spaying, neutering and vaccinations, Borg said. That’s where FFS’s fundraising efforts come in, plus private donations.

FFS uses two vet clinics in the area that offer the group reduced rates on the animals they bring in.

“Many people can’t afford to spay or neuter and vaccinate a cat, when it adds up to $200 per animal,” Borg said. “You would be surprised how many people will pay for it if it’s not $200.”

The average cost for the services provided (spay/neuter, rabies and distemper vaccination, postoperative pain injection and a left ear tip is $65 per cat through the reduced program, according to an FFS pamphlet

Borg said the organization is working with the City of Hudson now to find a solution to a large cat colony that’s living in the storm sewers near the Hanley Place apartment complex. Borg said they live in the sewers for shelter in the winter. Apparently apartment residents have been feeding the estimated 30 cats.

Borg said FFS would like to TNR the cats, then put up little kitty condos as habitats for the felines.

FFS hosts several fundraisers a year, including a spaghetti supper and bingo night they held Nov. 16 at the Roberts Park Building. Borg said they raised $227.50 and had 30 people attend.

FFS likes to use the Roberts Park Building because the village president, Willard Moeri, offers it to the group free of charge. Borg said Moeri is grateful to FFS because they have immensely reduced the cat population in Roberts’ trailer park.

Borg is also head of the Shelter Community Action Team (SCAT), an advocate group working to implement a no kill community in Burnett, Washburn, Polk, Barron and St. Croix Counties. St. Croix County already has a humane society dedicated to the no kill philosophy, Borg said.

“However, Burnett, Washburn, Polk and Barron are not convinced yet, so if we have to we will implement the programs necessary to get to that goal,” Borg said.

For more information on FFS and their methods of TNR, or to donate to the cause or foster a cat, visit them on Facebook, or call Borg at 715-501-8488.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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