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Wild cats get life

post #1 of 2
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Wild cats get life
0:23 AM 12/29/03
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal

It started in 2001 with a handful of donated cages and kennels in Dr. Susan Krebsbach's garage in rural Oregon. Two and a half years later, it's no exaggeration to say that more than 500 animals owe their lives to Krebsbach's "crusade" to save and rehabilitate stray cats in Dane County. <

Krebsbach recalls the exact moment when she decided to save feral, or wild, cats. It was in June 2001, and Krebsbach, a veterinarian, was volunteering at the Dane County Humane Society. A stray cat and her five kittens were brought to the shelter. Because of their tender age, the kittens could become acclimated to people, but the mother was considered too wild for adoption. <

"I asked what would happen with the mom. They said, 'She'll be put down,' and I said, 'No!' " Krebsbach recalled. <

Alarmed by the number of cats being euthanized because they were deemed feral, or too skittish of people, the animal-behavior expert began working with such cats to make them more human-friendly. Out of those early efforts came the Dane County Friends of Ferals, a rescue group of roughly 40 volunteers that works closely with the Dane County Humane Society. <

Krebsbach is a high-energy refugee from the corporate world who made a career change in the early 1990s to become a veterinarian. She runs a pet-behavior consulting business called Creature Counseling out of the home she shares with her husband, Neil, and son, Spencer, 5. <

"I have a passion for animals," Krebsbach said, adding with a laugh, "My husband calls it a crusade." <

Until Krebsbach's group intervened, stray cats brought to the Dane County Humane Society who weren't retrieved by owners within seven days and who were deemed feral were "humanely euthanized," Executive Director Pam McCloud Smith said. <

Friends of Ferals offers a second chance at life for such cats by sterilizing them, vaccinating them, treating them for diseases, getting them used to human contact and adopting them out to farmers and homeowners. By taking in cats once considered unadoptable, the group has helped ease crowding at the Humane Society shelter, which until this year was forced to euthanize cats for lack of space, McCloud Smith said. <

Spaying and neutering of the cats is paid for by a grant from Maddie's Fund, a California-based group that provides money to communities and organizations that sterilize stray pets. In fact, it was the Maddie's Fund grant that made Friends of Ferals possible, Krebsbach said, by providing thousands of dollars of funding each year. <

The grant, awarded to the Dane County Veterinary Medical Society, has allowed Friends of Ferals to sterilize 533 feral cats, said Krebsbach, vice president of the medical society. <

In 2002, Friends of Ferals moved from Krebsbach's garage to a converted horse stall in the small red barn on the grounds of the Humane Society, 5132 Voges Road. Inside the insulated stall are 22 cages with up to two cats in each. <

A radio plays constantly in the small area where the cats live until they're adopted. During their daily cage cleanings, the cats are allowed to scamper and climb about as volunteers pet and chat with them. After spending time in the barn, some cats live for a while in volunteers' homes for further socialization until they're adopted <

Roughly two-thirds of the cats find homes in barns or garages in rural areas, Krebsbach said. Up to one-third become socialized enough to live at least part of the time indoors, she said. <

Some, such as Jerry and Annabelle, "will go to indoor homes," Krebsbach said, pointing to a docile pair snuggling together in their cage. "They're very gentle. They're very sweet." <

Others, such as Cotton, who snarls when cornered, are unlikely to rest peacefully on anyone's lap. They are best suited for life in an outbuilding chasing mice, Krebsbach said. <

"The degree of feralness varies greatly from one cat to another," Krebsbach said. ".

. Even the Cottons of the world deserve a chance. There's a home for them." <
Asked how many of the feral cats would have been euthanized before Friends of Ferals came along, McCloud Smith replied, "All of them." <

Although the Humane Society praises the group's work, at least one local wildlife organization believes cats belong only one place - indoors. <

"We're not against cats per se," said Karen Etter Hale, executive secretary of the Madison Audubon Society. "We're against cats roaming outside and killing birds and small animals. Birds have a hard enough time out there." <

Hale said the main problem is the exploding number of cats in the United States, estimated by one study to have grown from 30 million to 60 million between 1970 and 1990. <

A 1996 study by wildlife officials from the UW Extension and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission estimated between 8 million and 217 million birds are killed in Wisconsin each year by free-ranging cats. "Even if you took 10 percent of that," Hale said, "it's a huge number." <

Hale, who owns four indoor cats, said her group makes an exception for "working" farm cats that are needed for rodent control. "I don't like euthanasia," added Hale. But in the case of the cat overpopulation, "I think that's the best." <

Krebsbach believes her group is part of the solution by helping ensure feral cats can't multiply. And although Krebsbach herself doesn't eat meat, she accepts that things are different in the animal world. "It's all part of life, she said. "That, to me as a vegetarian, I can live with." <

Krebsbach does acknowledge outdoor cats tend to have shorter lives than indoor cats. But for those who wind up at the Humane Society, it's still longer than it used to be. <

]"Are (outdoor cats) more at risk for being hit by a car or being attacked by larger animals? Yes. But there are certainly some cats whose personality is not conducive to living indoors," she said. <

Her own outdoor cat, Thomas, lives in a heated corner of the Krebsbach garage where Friends of Ferals was launched. He was the first saved from euthanasia. <

Said Krebsbach: "If his life was taken prematurely I will be sad, but I will feel he's had a good life." <
post #2 of 2
What an excellent story! Thanks for sharing it with us. After all of the sad stories we hear (like the push to trap and kill cats in Ormond Beach) reading success stories like this helps to remind me that our work to educate the public and to save the lives of ferals isn't hopeless.
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