In 2007, a group of women in Polk County, FL decided to do something about the feral cat population in the county. Polk is mainly a rural region, often jokingly referred to as a gathering of “rednecks.” Introducing a humane process to deal with animals often thought of as nuisances hasn’t been easy for these committed volunteers. These women were friends, neighbors, and co-workers – unlikely professionals brought together by their love of all things feline and a burning desire to “do the right thing.” They started slow – naming their group Feral Fanciers – and since beginning, their impact has been felt throughout the county.
President Bonnie Lingard is the main trap-neuter-release (TNR) person. A chemist by profession, Lingard feeds four feral groups every day. Yolie Rodriguez works full time for the health department, is the group’s vice president, serves as the adoption coordinator for the Petco adoption program, and takes photos for all adoption candidates and posts them on Petfinder, Facebook, and the group’s website. Feral Fanciers’ secretary-treasurer is Leslie Hoover, a retired educator from Michigan who manages all financial records, writes the monthly newsletter for the website, and answers all inquiries for the organization.
In the past two years, Feral Fanciers has changed the lives of over 1500 cats found in feral colonies in Polk. Cats or kittens deemed friendly enough for adoption have been fostered and adopted through their adoption program held on weekends at the local Petco Store. But their main mission has been to trap, neuter or spay, and return feral cats to the location where they were found, assigning a caregiver to feed and watch over them on a regular basis. Hundreds of feral cats, too wild for adoption, have been helped through their efforts and now live in stable feral colonies where no unwanted reproduction occurs, helping dramatically curb the overpopulation of unwanted cats throughout the county.
Feral Fanciers contracted with local veterinarians and the SPCA for reduced rates for spaying and neutering. At first, the women paid for these expenses themselves, but they sought out regular donors and ran some effective fundraisers, ultimately giving them the ability to sustain their efforts. Still much more money is needed to adequately expand the program throughout the entire county. Feral Fanciers monitors their progress through a cat tracking process which lists each spay, neuter, and adoption done each month categorized under the cat colony from which it originated. They post these numbers each month, along with a graph, on the statistics page on their website www.feralfanciers.org. The group hopes to see many more feral cat colonies sterilized through the TNR plan and assigned a caregiver. To do this, they need to enlist more volunteers to trap, transport, and care for the cats during recovery before they are released. Other objectives include finding more cost effective means of sterilization, expanding the adoption program, recruiting more foster volunteers, locating more sources for food donations, partnering with Animal Control to deal with ferals, and expanding community education about the feral cat situation. The group now has a voting membership of 25 people. To get involved, contact FeralFanciers.org.
Written By: Ellen Manning
(Information contributed by Leslie Hoover)