Here's the article which appears in the Sept. 30 of The Catholic Telegraph. I was hoping to just post a link, but only a portion of the paper appears online and the editor didn't chose this. I'm pretty happy without it turned out, but there's so much more than needs to be said!
SAVING CATS SERIOUS BUSINESS FOR CATHOLIC VOLUNTEER
By Eileen Connelly, OSU
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY - It's just before dawn on a Sunday morning in one Cincinnati neighborhood, and Millie Schafer is on a mission. With the help of a co-worker, Rosa Key-Schwartz, she is determined to trap an elusive feral feline who has mothered numerous litters of kittens.
With patience, their mission is successful and Schafer will take the frightened creature into foster care, have her spayed and vaccinated, then return her to the neighborhood where she and other fixed cats will be fed and watched over by residents.
Like other advocates of the practice of TNR (trap-neuter-return), Schafer believes it is the most practical and humane way to stop the breeding of homeless kittens, a growing problem in Cincinnati and cities nationwide. But Schafer takes the process one step further by working to educate people in local neighborhoods about responsible pet ownership, in particular the importance of having their animal companions spayed or neutered.
Her love and respect for creation runs deep and is rooted in her upbringing. â€œI grew up on a farm and loved the animals,â€ said Schafer, a research chemist. â€œI can also remember my years in Catholic school and the stories about St. Francis of Assisi and his tremendous respect for all life. That was very inspiring.â€
Given her affinity for animals, Schafer didn't hesitate to respond to her mother's request for help rounding up and fixing a large group of barn cats, along with finding homes for the kittens. It was her introduction to TNR and the start of a commitment to help cats that has strengthened over the past 10 years. Early on, Schafer's efforts were limited to trapping stray and feral cats in her own neighborhood, yet it wasn't long before she realized the problem was wide reaching.
â€œI became aware of the high number of cats and kittens being killed in our country shelters and I was shocked and angry,â€ she explained. â€œI decided to expand what I was doing and help more people get their cats fixed.â€
This meant hitting the streets in area neighborhoods where Schafer quickly found residents overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of feral cats along with friendly strays abandoned by irresponsible owners. â€œThey didn't know how to catch the cats or stop the breeding and I recognized the need to remove some of the barriers,â€ she said.
Word of Schafer's work soon spread and other animal lovers joined her. In 2003, she helped organize a sizable trapping and rescue operation when nearly three-dozen cats lost their homes after their owners were forced out by a construction project in Oakley. Her basement became a temporary animal shelter as volunteers cared for the felines and worked to find them loving homes.
This cooperative venture led to the formation of The Neighborhood Cat Helpers, a small network of dedicated individuals whose primary mission is to â€œassist and advocate the humane reduction of free roaming homeless, stray and feral cats using TNR. Our secondary purpose is to assist with finding homes for captured free roaming adoptable cats and kittens when feasible.â€
Although helping cats is the group's focus, Schafer stressed that working with local residents is also critical. â€œWe don't just barge into neighborhood,â€ she noted. â€œThere's usually someone who has asked us for help. We then work side by side with the residents to help them catch the cats, get them fixed and get the kittens into homes. The residents then feed and care for the remaining cats. It helps stabilize the animal population and empowers the people because they've taken ownership of the situation. We've seen this happen in neighborhood after neighborhood.â€
In the past two years Schafer estimates the Neighborhood Cat Helpers have collectively been responsible for spaying or neutering several hundred cats/kittens and have found loving homes for many of them. For Schaefer, it's an alternately rewarding and difficult job, especially when she encounters cases like that of Charlie.
One of her neighborhood contacts, Orville Montgomery, alerted her to the condition of the severely injured three-month-old kitten. An emergency trip to the Pleasant Ridge Pet Hospital and an examination by Dr. Denise Chase revealed both of the little tabby's rear legs were broken. Chase referred the kitten to the Harrison Animal Hospital. There Dr. Lori Kirst performed the surgery to repair Charlie's shattered bones, the result, she said, of animal abuse. She believes he was either kicked very hard or struck with a board. Charlie is now recovering and has been adopted. An investigation is pending with the Hamilton County SPCA, Schafer said.
Although she finds such cruelty repugnant, it doesn't stop Schafer from continuing to help the cats she can and striving to educate the human population about their responsibility to care for all God's creatures.
â€We're connected to everything around us, to each other and our environment,â€ she said. â€œGiven that, how can we not care?â€