The feral cat community at Hawthorne Race Course is now in good hands after a week of controversy about the future of the cats at the horse track that was ignited when the track ownership and the long-time colony caretaker had a falling out. Tree House Humane Society, Triple R Pets and PAWS Chicago have joined forces with Hawthorne’s ownership to work on an action plan for the care of the cats. The three rescue organizations and track officials met Thursday to start work on a game plan for the future of the colonies.
“We want to do all that we can to make sure that the cats are taken care of,” says Jenny Schlueter, Community Cats Program Director for Tree House. “I’ve been out to Hawthorne to meet with the ownership and the employees that will oversee the program. We’ve examined the areas where the colonies are living and will be on site at least once a week to make sure the plan is carried out.”
Due to recent events the long-time caretaker Carrie Gobernatz won’t be allowed back at Hawthorne to care for the cats. However, she is working with Tree House and the coalition to identify the areas where the cats are living and to share her knowledge of the feral community that was in her care for the past seven years.
From the beginning, her heart was in the right place. She's put her time, limited resources and her heart into the care of the feral cats. She's also found homes for many homeless pets. She is still able to assist from afar.
“She has helped direct us to areas were some of the cats have been hiding beyond the two feeding areas,” says Schlueter. “I’ve been able to look at the situation and come up with some ideas with the ownership to make sure the cats are protected from the weather. I’m bringing some houses out this weekend and will be setting up feeding stations in another area.”
Most of us had never heard of the feral cats of Hawthorne until Gobernatz and the track hit a stalemate a week ago over her work. The track ownership had decided to limit where she could go on the property. Track ownership says she put horses at risk with the free feeding of some cats that had drawn other vermin (raccoons etc) to the horse barns. Gobernatz reached out to the media (my earlier post is here) to get the word out about the cats.
As the backlash exploded via social media, the work began behind the scenes with the three rescue organizations. All of them had provided some resources in the past for Gobernatz and her work but had not made headway getting a more formal program going at the track.
“We had provided spay and neuter services in the past and also had offered to work with the track to set up colonies,” says Schlueter. “We’ll now be working in conjunction with PAWS and Triple R Pets to trap the cats and provide spay and neuter services. We’ll also work on rehoming the strays and keeping track of the colony cats that will be returned through our TNR efforts.”
As this point, all three non-profits have been given vendor status so that they may come and go from the property. As the plan is created, they will keep a close eye on making sure the plan is implemented.
“As long as we have some oversight and they are following the plan we set up, we are going to be there just once a week to oversee their efforts,” add Schlueter. “Right now, the ownership and team at Hawthorne are putting their best foot forward and I appreciate it. Even if things go well, I can see us being out here once a week to help with the colony.”
Writers note – Since my post went live last Saturday after talking to Carrie, I’ve heard from any people on the issue. I’ve not been ignoring the story or those that are concerned. I was just buried in my day job (my own cats barely saw me this week).
What I have heard is that many groups have tried to reach out in the past to help Carrie and her efforts, but that those relationships did not last. Efforts by some of the groups to work directly with the track also had not been successful.
Tree House currently oversees several hundred colonies in and around Chicago and Triple R Pets has a long, successful track record in their neck of suburbia. Those two groups combined with PAWS’ resources should mean good news for the long-term care of the feral cats of Hawthorne. I’ve personally known Jenny for several years and am thrilled to see that she’s spearheading the efforts.
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