Winter shelters on the way for Waukegan's feral cats thanks to volunteers

Winter shelters on the way for Waukegan's feral cats thanks to volunteers
AmeriCorp volunteers will be building shelters for Waukegan's outdoor cats for Make A Difference Day.

For the past two years, a local volunteer organization has tackled a project each holiday season aimed at helping pets in need at Waukegan Animal Control. Both projects spearheaded by Waukegan Animals Getting Saved – WAGS – were aimed at making life better for the homeless dogs in Waukegan. This year the group is reaching out to help the city’s feral cat community.

On Saturday, the group is kicking off their Holiday Winter Cat Shelter Drive. This year’s drive started to take shape when Anna Orsonio of AmeriCorps reached out to WAGS to talk about doing a community service project on Make A Difference Day (Saturday, October 26). At first, Alison Graham considered having volunteers do work at the shelter. But, a more pressing issue was in the forefront for her organization – feral cat shelters.

Make a Difference Day

“The AmeriCorps volunteers all work with Habitat for Humanity,” says Graham. “Since they had experience building, I wanted to come up with a project that could tap into those talents. One week earlier, we’d connected with a gentleman who built cat shelters for feral cats. We thought it was a perfect match – and we’ve not done a cat oriented project yet for our holiday drive.”

Make A Difference DayThis Saturday, some handymen and Americorp volunteers will join forces with the goal of building 2 to 4 shelters for some of the colony caretakers in the community. This is just the start of a much bigger project as WAGS uses the volunteer day to fine tune the program before bringing in more volunteers to help build the cat shelters. The program runs from 8:30 until noon and they’ll be using modified plans created by FIVer Cats.

You can go online and donate - $100 pays for materials to build a shelter, a heated water bowl (which is vital in the winter) and cat food. Smaller $50 donations can help pitch in with food or materials for shelters. Volunteer Terry Backis has been organizing the event for this weekend.

“We just really felt it was time for us to focus on stray and feral cats in our community,” adds Graham. “They are almost forgotten. If people see a stray dog and many of them stop to help or they at least call animal control to report the dog. Cats just get left behind. This is our way to cut down on the overpopulation while helping stabilize the community cat population.”

TNR in Waukegan

In the Chicago area and elsewhere, TNR, or Trap Neuter Return programs, have been growing in popularity when it comes to stabilizing the free roaming cat population. Through these programs, stray and feral cats are trapped and either spayed or neutered. The friendly strays often go to rescue and feral cats go back to their neighborhood to their colony.

Spay and Stay takes in friendly strays - like China and her kittens - and finds them homes.

Spay and Stay works in communities to help with TNR efforts. Rescues take in friendly strays - like China and her kittens - and finds them homes.

In Lake County, the all -volunteer, non-profit Stay and Spay has been spearheading TNR efforts for the past 10 years. Within Waukegan, TNR didn’t really take off until about two years ago. That is when the community received a grant from PetSmart Charities for 250 spay or neuter surgeries for outdoor roaming cats.

The program – dubbed Project Fixin’ Waukegan - has been growing ever since. PetSmart Charities has awarded Spay and Stay a grant the past two years to pay for the spay/neuter, vaccinations and microchipping of 750 free-roaming stray or feral cats at no cost to registered colony caretakers. This year’s program has been extended through December 20 (learn more at the bottom of this page).

Getting the cat population under control

“The cat population had been exploding and Waukegan Animal Control was filled with cats prior to the program,” says Anna Finn, a cat advocate in Waukegan and a WAGS board member. “In the past, animal control would get the calls for feral cats and those calls. Those cats, if caught, were often euthanized.  Now Spay and Stay is called and they work on trapping the cats, getting them fixed and then works on managing the cat colonies once spayed and neutered cats are returned to their neighborhood.”

Eleanor and her littermates were rescued through Spay and Stay's TNR efforts.

Eleanor and her littermates were rescued through TNR efforts.

Programs like this take volunteers. While many people will feed the cats in their yard, they may not have the time to trap and take a cat to the vet to be altered. Spay and Stay has worked to increase the number of volunteers to help with trapping, vet runs and coaching people in the communities on caring for colonies. There are currently 175 registered colonies in Waukegan.

“There were people in the community doing the TNR on their own and paying to get a cat fixed for $25,” says Finn. “That worked well if someone had just a few cats but if there were a lot of cats – say 20 or 30 – that number is staggering for many people. The PetSmart Grant and Project Fixin’ Waukegan has helped in those situations, which stabilizes the community.”

Community Effort

Under the Project Fixin’ Waukegan program, feral cats and neighborhood strays may be fixed – spayed or neutered – for $25. Sometimes those caring for ferals also have unaltered cats in their home, another local group - AHA! (Alliance for Humane Action) – has stepped up to offer a special program for Waukegan’s house cats.

AHA is offering spay/neuter and vaccinations for just $12 for Waukegan’s pet cats at their Wonderlake Spay and Neuter Clinic. That is normally the cost of the rabies shot and tag. AHA will offer the $12 packages for a limited time.

“So many people in neighborhoods don’t know these programs exist and we are working to spread the word,” adds Finn. “We have brochures in Spanish and AEAR (Animal Education and Rescue) is helping out when they do outreach in our neighborhoods.”

If this Holiday Campaign is as successful as the last two, a lot of community cats will have outdoor shelter this winter. Two years ago, donors pitched in to provide 44 Kurunda Beds and blankets for animal control. Last year, they had supporters donate $100 to help pay for spay/neuter, vaccinations and preparing a dog to leave through rescue. The goal was to help more dogs connect by having fewer expenses once a dog left animal control.

Check out the work being done in Waukegan as the community steps up to become no kill. Learn more about the Holiday Winter Cat Shelter Drive and Make A Difference Day online and donations are being taken online through December.

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    I am a crazy cat lady and puppy mill warrior that blogs to advocate and educate about pet issues. In American animal controls, millions of pets are abandoned each year and an estimated 4 million die just because there are not enough homes. It truly seems like it’s Raining Cats and Dogs.

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