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A stray cat walks downstairs at The Ridges in Athens, Feb. 12, 2024.

Animal advocates unite to combat cat overpopulation in Athens

As a part of her daily morning routine, Victoria LaPoe opens her back door and is immediately greeted by numerous feline friends – a colony of feral cats. She gives them food, milk, water and lots of love

LaPoe, a professor of journalism at Ohio University, founded The Deck Cats of Athens County, a nonprofit that aims to trap, neuter and release stray cats in Athens. 

Trap-neuter-return programs serve as a safe way to reduce the number of stray cats in an area and improve their quality of life. So far, LaPoe has helped to trap an estimated 70 cats and bring them to the veterinarian for neutering services before releasing them.

“I do believe if animals are suffering, it's not good for society, and I do believe we're all connected,” LaPoe said.

According to Peta, it is estimated that between 60 and 100 million cats are without homes in the U.S. Athens is no exception. As a result, LaPoe, and many others, have stepped up to care for the cats of Athens County.

Nancy Mingus has been fostering animals and volunteering with the Athens County Humane Society, or ACHS, for nearly four years. 

“It's hell for them and they die,” Mingus said. “It's just a horrible life for them and I think of all the work I do, that's what bothers me the most about the feral cat population.”

To combat the overpopulation and suffering, Mingus deals with the feral cat population hands-on through the trap-neuter-return program at the ACHS.

Mingus explained that outdoor cat populations can multiply quickly when colonies of 20-30 cats contain females that are not spayed. 

“Each (female) one of them's going to have anywhere from three to six kittens,” Mingus said. “So just do the math.”

Susan McNish, a volunteer at ACHS and a retired elementary school teacher, said she feels education is the key to combating the cat overpopulation crisis in Athens. 

“I really do believe in the philosophy of starting young and helping children understand our role as humans in the welfare of animals and not just exclusively cats, but ideally all creatures with care and concern and compassion,” McNish said.

As McNish said, education allows people to make positive decisions with open hearts and open minds. Part of that positive decision-making process can include proper pet ownership and adoption. 

 “I call myself a little matchmaker,” McNish said. “We get flooded with applicants that do want to have a particular cat in their life, but we also are responsible and we take each application seriously.”

McNish ensures cats are going to a safe and happy home through careful consideration during the adoption process – something that can also significantly improve the quality of life of cats.

Richa Bhatia is a doctoral student and a newly established cat mom.

Bhatia first saw her kitten, Michiko, on the ACHS Facebook page. The post featured a picture of a long-haired black, white and orange cat with green eyes. It was a courtesy post on behalf of LaPoe’s organization, the Deck Cats of Athens.

“I really knew that she was a cat for us the moment we saw her picture,” Bhatia said.

So, she picked up her phone and called the number listed on the Facebook post. LaPoe and Bhatia arranged to meet up with Michiko at the Plains Library.

“I just fell in love with Michiko,” Bhatia said.

Michiko, who was once a feral cat, quickly became an important part of Bhatia’s life. 

“I think more people should really consider adopting feral cats as well because they deserve a good life,” Bhatia said. “They're out there. But clearly, Michiko wouldn't have survived the outside.”

LaPoe said Michiko is not the only cat she has available for adoption, but finding them a home is no easy feat.

“It's just hard because there's really nowhere for these guys to go, adoption-wise,” LaPoe said. “There's just so many, there's so many cats.”

While LaPoe, Mingus and McNish work to help the cat population in Athens, they all agree there is more to be done. McNish explained that feeding a stray cat, but not working to get it trapped, neutered and released is a disservice in itself.

“You should not think that you're doing a cat a favor by feeding it, by becoming its food source and not ultimately taking care of it, making sure that it does not continue to reproduce,” McNish said.

LaPoe said humans have the resources to help stray cats, but there remains a lack of student and resident support to help the issue. 

She poses one question for those who consider themselves “Bobcats.”

“We all know Rufus,” LaPoe said. “But if Rufus was a real-life animal on our campus, and was a stray, what would his life be like?” 


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