By Mary Roberts/Volunteer/Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals:
It’s 6:00 on a cold October morning in the backyard at a home in Loveland, though the same scene is unfolding in Fort Collins, Ault, and Windsor. A crew of volunteers sits quietly in their cars, or crouched down in the back porch. A lucky few sit comfortable in a living room watching through oversized windows …and waiting. No one speaks unless it’s in low tones or whispers, not wanting to reveal their presence.
Suddenly something is moving and headed to a line of traps that have been set up since the night before with cans of cat food and other delicacies. As swift as these cats enter the trap and inhale the food, even swifter is the door that slams shut, capturing these feral cats that back up against the trap and stay frozen with fear. A volunteer covers the trap with a blanket hoping to relax the captive.
But these cats have nothing to fear, they are part of an effort by a newly-formed group of volunteers from northern Colorado who re-enact this scene once a month in an attempt to capture a few of the 20,000 – 30,000 feral cats roaming Larimer County, according to sources from the Larimer Humane Society. These cats are then sterilized; vaccinated, treated if possible for other medical issues then returned to their colony where a caretaker has chosen to feed and care for them. Young kittens are sent to foster homes to be adopted as are the semi-tame cats that exhibit sociability with humans granting them the possibility of sharing a home with a loving caretaker.
Back in February of this year, Leslie Vogt, owner/manager of Edwards House Bed and Breakfast in Fort Collins, was listening to one of her employees tell her about a feral cat she was feeding and the kittens she kept having. As a seven-year veteran of the Larimer Humane Society’s Board of Directors, Vogt knew that there had to be an answer. She confesses, “I knew nothing about the TNR (Trap, Neuter & Return) efforts that communities across the country have put into place.”
Her first inclination was to go on to Alley Cat Allies website where she learned to create her own TNR group. Vogt then published a notice in the Meetings sections in the Coloradoan, asking for volunteers and anyone interested in being part of what would eventually be called Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals. Over twenty-five people were at that first meeting and nearly all are still part of the group. Within weeks they had their first TNR event, borrowing traps from the Larimer Humane Society and Fort Collins Cat Rescue and trapping 25 cats. All the veterinarians, vet techs, trappers, drivers, and the people who sit with the cats post-surgery, watching their vitals and placing warmed towels against their bellies are volunteers, over fifty in all who have participated in the TNR events held over the last few months.
After an article was published in the Loveland Reporter-Herald about a colony caretaker on the outskirts of Loveland who was participating in the TNR events, a number of readers sent money to the group to help with the purchase of traps, surgical supplies, vaccinations, blankets and gas. Vogt was overwhelmed with the response and was able to keep the effort going especially with the free services offered by the participating vets and the vet hospitals that offered their spaces on Sundays for the surgeries. But they are running out of money and are looking to set up as a legal non-profit and apply for grants. But according to Vogt, “We will have to slow down our pace because we just don’t have the funds.” The TNR events scheduled for November and December and possibly January have been cancelled which frustrates Vogt because those are the coldest and most difficult months for ferals.
The ferals they have helped number 330 in just one year; 55 kittens have been fostered and 24 cats have been relocated as barn cats who now spend their time chasing mice and sleeping covered in hay; protected from the worst of the elements and slowly forming a bond with their caretaker who provides food and water.
There have been some really good moments like the time a hoarding situation was brought to their attention in Ault where the elderly caretaker finally called to ask for help, thinking that he had only 12-15 cats. It turned out that there were more than 45 cats with 25 kittens. Medically they were compromised with urinary tract infections, ear mites; thin and dehydrated. The kittens were adopted, 12 barn homes were found for the older cats, and the few left were sent back to their original colony with some help for the elderly caretaker.
The volunteers of Northern Colorado Friends of Ferals hope to start up again in early spring in order to find all the new born kittens and adopt them out to good homes. Vogt will be spending the winter fundraising for the spring efforts. The public can call Leslie Vogt at 970-224-1467 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a check made out to Animal Rescue Connection, Inc., c/o Leslie Vogt, Edwards House Bed & Breakfast, 402 W. Mountain Ave. Fort Collins, CO 80521. Please write NCFF on the memo line of your check.