Animal organizations and community volunteers mobilized last month when a Lane County woman publicly requested help to deal with a population of nearly 400 cats on a property between Veneta and Eugene.
Two weeks prior, the property’s elderly owner had been admitted to the hospital, leaving her daughter-in-law, KaSandra Riley, to find a way to care for the animals.
In answer to the call, the community rallied to take on the monstrous task of caring for the colony of felines, bringing in food and water and providing Riley with advisement.
As of the beginning of this month, only a few cats had reportedly been removed as a handful of volunteers continue managing the cat crisis by providing nourishment and medical attention.
As many of the cats are feral, they are not being accepted by animal shelters.
The lineage of cats began 13 years ago when a mother cat had five kittens, Riley told KLCC. Things grew from there as many cats had been neglected to have gotten spayed or neutered.
Save a field hospital being established to spay and neuter the population or permission given by the owner for the cats to be captured and re-homed, a permanent solution remains unclear.
“If that first cat had been [spayed], that probably would never have happened,” said Janetta Overholser, board president of the Humane Society of Cottage Grove.
For those at the Humane Society, it’s situations like that outside of Veneta which drive home the importance of fixing pets. Cottage Grove itself has no shelter, but Overholser believes if one were to open up, it would overflow quickly.
“And that’s one reason we’re so focused on spay/neuter,” she said, “is to get the numbers down to where if the board at some future time wanted to have a shelter, it might become actually manageable.”
The local nonprofit has provided animal services to Cottage Grove, Creswell and the surrounding rural area for more than three decades. Among its efforts, spay and neuter assistance is foremost, with a particular focus on cats.
Pregnant cats usually carry anywhere between four to 10 kittens, can become pregnant throughout almost their entire life and typically deliver three litters a year if left unchecked. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation on those numbers explains the concern among animal service workers.
Currently, the Humane Society of Cottage Grove is distributing coupons to aid the effort, offering coupons good for $50 off the spaying of a female cat and a tomcat special good for $25 off neutering.
“Those coupons are good at both clinics in Cottage Grove and both clinics in Creswell,” Overholser said.
In addition, the nonprofit offers a Low-income Spay/Neuter Assistance Program to which people in need can apply to receive help with the cost.
Fixing a cat can cost between 100 and 400 dollars depending on the level of care, lending to the deep need for financial aid when cat populations get out of hand.
Overholser recently worked with a man to remove 14 kittens from his property.
“He got 10 cats spayed and neutered,” she said. “He has now stopped his problem because of those 10 adult cats, six were female. Each of those female cats had dropped a litter of four to six kittens.”
The Humane Society also provides transportation to the Willamette Animal Guild and Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, which offer free spay and neuter for stray and feral outside cats.
“There are a lot of options for spay/neuter that are very financially very affordable,” said Overholser.
While there is a constant drive to get people to spay and neuter their animals, the Humane Society provides other services as well. Among them, the nonprofit gives advice and explains options to people who don’t know what to do with injured animals.
For an injured dog inside city limits, for example, the Humane Society directs people to the local police. For those outside Cottage Grove, they recommend people contact Lane County Animal Services.
However, felines get different treatment.
“Cats are pretty much a non-entity, regrettably,” said Overholser.
Greenhill Humane Society will take stray cats from outside Cottage Grove’s city limits, but urban cases must go through the Humane Society of Cottage Grove.
“So if someone finds a stray cat within city limits, they can call me and I have appointments with Greenhill every week,” Overholser said. “They will tell me how many cats they can bring up.”
The nonprofit has also expanded its outreach to the Cottage Grove High School.
“One of our gals goes into the high school,” Overholser said. “She goes in a couple times a year to present to the finance classes the real cost of owning a pet.”
The class stresses that animal care, vaccinations and future medical costs all add up.
“That free pet is not free,” said Overholser.
The Humane Society of Cottage Grove keeps itself afloat mainly through donations and its store on Eighth Street.
“That shop … is an ongoing fundraiser, but we also have a lot of information and resources there,” Overholser said.
Overholser estimated that the nonprofit sees well over 1,000 animals aided by its services per year, at an annual cost of about $25,000. So far this year, about 314 have been helped. While the nonprofit is currently financially stable, there are no plans to build Cottage Grove its own shelter.
“Unfortunately, for the amount of money it would cost to build a shelter, we could spay and neuter every animal in this town for free,” said Overholser, adding that the group lacks the skillset to undertake such an operation. “Even if we had the money, we don’t have the know-how to do it.”
As such, the Humane Society focuses strongly on spay and neuter services and relies heavily on the Greenhill Humane Society.
“If we didn’t have Greenhill’s resources, that would put a different look on things,” Overholser said. “I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have available.”
The lack of a shelter in Cottage Grove means Humane Society volunteers including Overholser herself keep cats in their houses when they are in need of transition.
More volunteers are always welcome at the nonprofit.
“If people want to volunteer, we’d love to have you come in,” Overholser said.
Aside from helping the Humane Society itself, Overholser is hopeful people will become increasingly aware of “the desperate need for people to have a plan in place for when the unexpected happens – when someone goes to the hospital or someone dies,” she said. “It would be a much smoother and less stressful situation for the pets.”
As for the area’s greatest need for improvement, Overholser had one idea: “For people to be responsible,” she said. “Spay and neuter reduces population, suffering, unwanted animals, abuse, inbreeding, disease incubation, fighting, injuries and debt bills.”
The Humane Society of Cottage Grove will host its 13th annual Bow Wow Around Town dog walk fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 10 a.m. in Prospector Park. Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m.