Tackling the Nitty-Gritty of Feline Overpopulation
in the Adirondack region of New York.
Located on the shores of Lake George, Warren County is home to approximately 66,000 residents. It is also the site of one of our newest and most exciting projects, the North Country Initiative (NCI), launched in September 2015. Working with the NCI team, we’ve developed a holistic program to address the complex problem of feline overpopulation in ways that are humane, educational, and lasting.
“First and foremost, the program’s objective is to create a no-kill rescue and adoption facility for felines,” says Senior Vice President of Operations Joanne Yohannan. “At the same time, however, we support NCI’s spay/neuter initiatives to ‘plug the flood’ of new litters and also conduct local adoption events with NCI and other Warren County rescue groups.” Equally important, says Joanne, are efforts to implement a series of programs that deal with the immediate needs of feral colonies and the many friendly cats who are ready to begin new lives in good homes.
Eighty of those 229 adoptions happened at Animal League America’s Adoption Center, thanks to our Humane Relocation Program. Prior to transport, all “friendlies” are tested for FELV/FIV, vaccinated, and treated for medical issues. We also provide medical support on Long Island prior to adoption, although most of the cats are in good health and ready to go. “I can’t tell you how happy we are to watch those adorable, once-abandoned cats and kittens go home,” says Joanne.
A Community Effort
The NCI team knows that for their project to have a lasting impact, the community must get involved. To make this a genuine grassroots project, NCI recruited local veterinarians, rescue groups, and volunteers.
Many veterinary clinics are providing low-cost spay/neuter and discounted medical care for rescued felines. They include Adirondack Animal Hospital, Queensbury; Ballston Spa Veterinary Clinic, Ballston Spa; For Pet’s Sake, Glens Falls; Mohawk Hudson Humane Society’s spay/neuter clinic, Wilton; and Countryside Veterinary Hospital, Queensbury. In addition, both Mohawk Hudson Humane and Countryside have subsequently become part of Animal League America’s national spay/neuter network, SpayUSA.
Local rescue groups have also pitched in, helping to rehome rescued “friendlies.” These groups include Animal Lovers Rescue, Adirondack Save-A-Stray, SPCA of Upstate New York, Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, and H.O.P.E. Rescue.
The North Country Initiative’s hardworking volunteers make all the difference, says Deb, fostering, feeding, and monitoring colonies, assisting with TNR, promoting adoption, and spreading the word. Like most rescue groups, NCI is always looking for dedicated volunteers, and Deb plans to launch another recruitment effort in the near future.
Deb is also happy to have established a good relationship with Petco, in Queensbury. “They provide us with two cat condos at the front of the store where we can show off some of our sweet, adoptable kitties,” she says. “And we’ve also started to hold adoption events there, and have had a great response to our efforts.” Kids are joining in, too, she says, noting that the Queensbury Girl Scouts invited NCI to be part of their Super Pet Adoption Day.
Not long ago, Deb and her staff took on a pair of feral colonies at two daunting sites, one at Dream Lake, in Queensbury, N.Y., and the other at Diamond Point, on beautiful Lake George.
At Dream Lake, the team found 17 kittens hiding under wood and debris piles; some were with mothers, some were alone. “We were able to treat, spay and neuter, socialize and rehome every kitten from this site,” says Deb “as well as spay and neuter 20 adult cats. Four of the adults were friendly and rehomed. The remaining 16 were returned to this now-stabilized colony, which residents will feed and keep an eye on.”
As an example of just how out of control things can get, Deb tells the story of a well-meaning woman at the Diamond Point site who took in seven stray cats three years ago. She couldn’t afford to “fix” them, so by the time NCI heard about the situation, the woman was living in a small trailer with 47 unaltered cats.
“We were able to place 15 friendlies, get fresh air into the house, and help her with trips to the dump,” Deb says. “Of course, we had all the cats spayed and neutered, but most of them were not socialized because she just couldn’t work with so many. We’re encouraging her to socialize one at a time, and we’re helping her as much as we can.
“Imagine how many more kittens would have been born and suffered at these two sites alone — in just one season — if we hadn’t stepped in to help,” Deb says.
Deb has been stepping in to help animals for more than 30 years. Her firsthand experience tells her that every spay/neuter has a tremendous impact on the feline population. Given the rate at which cats can reproduce — beginning at the age of just four months — the potential population explosion in feral colonies is staggering. “Each surgery prevents at least one litter,” says Deb, “and with an average of four kittens per litter, with each of those kittens reproducing at four months of age…well, the actual number of lives saved and the amount of suffering prevented…from predation, cars, disease, and cruelty…it really is impossible to calculate.”
Saving Precious Lives Now
To help cope with the county’s chronic overpopulation problems, NCI implemented three tried-and-true spay/neuter programs:
Program 1: TNVR
Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return to a managed colony.This approach helps feral (unowned, unadoptable, unsocialized) cats by ending reproduction and stabilizing the population. It also improves the lives of individual cats, reducing fighting and other negative behaviors associated with mating, protecting against the rabies virus, supplying feral cat shelters when necessary, and providing a caretaker to feed and monitor the colony.
Program 2: TNA
Trap-Neuter-Adopt is for stray cats who
These strays are neutered, tested, vaccinated, treated for internal and external parasites and other medical issues, and then adopted to a responsible, loving home.
are unowned but friendly.
Program 3: Spay/Neuter
Spay/Neuter and Return to Owner.This program helps with the spay/neuter of owned cats from low-income families. The Initiative works with families to educate and support them as much as possible so they can keep the pets they love without adding to the overpopulation problem.
Building for The Future
NCI’s on-site Director, Deb Oligny, is excited about everything the program has accomplished and optimistic about the future. “In order to keep up the momentum and continue to expand our programs it is more important than ever that we establish a no-kill rescue and adoption center within Warren County,” Deb says.
Finding the right location has been a challenge, Deb admits, but she and her team hope to be settled into a new facility by the end of the year.
“We have to do this right, and we know that the initial investment will bring long-term rewards in reduced disease, increased adoptions, and most important of all, greater comfort and well-being for all the cats and kittens in our care, says Deb”
An effective rescue and adoption center requires space for individual and group housing, isolation areas for sick animals, proper sanitation, laundry rooms, as much natural light as possible, adoption and reception areas, adequate parking, and an easily accessible location.
The Future for the Adirondack Region
As a no-kill pioneer in this part of the state — where the daily need is a matter of life and death — the North Country Initiative is blazing trails for the future of feline rescue. North Shore Animal League America is grateful for the generous grant that’s making this lifesaving work possible and honored to support this incredibly important program and the wonderful team working so hard on-site. The feeling is clearly mutual.
“Without Animal League America,” says Deb, “this wouldn’t be happening. What an amazing organization. I love how everyone there works together, with different teams addressing so many different needs. They really have it down. It’s wonderful that they’re working all over the country, and even internationally.”
She pauses, sighs, and adds, “Oh my gosh. What would all these thousands of animals do without Animal League America?”