'1 hoarding case can put us over the edge:' Local cat groups struggle with overpopulation

Missy the cat survived the winter by staying under apartments. She is in the care of Forgotten Felines of Richland County.
Missy the cat survived the winter by staying under apartments. She is in the care of Forgotten Felines of Richland County.

Linda Swisher received a call Friday from the Humane Society of Richland County.

Humane agents had picked up three pregnant cats from a hoarding situation on the city's north side.

They needed help.

Swisher, of Forgotten Felines of Richland County, removed an additional 12 cats that day and returned for five more on Monday morning. She still wasn't finished.

"There's a few more I need to go back and get," Swisher said.

Swisher's husband built a heated pole barn that was supposed to be his "man cave." Instead, it's become a de facto cat shelter.

"It's the best we can do because we don't have a brick and mortar building," Swisher said of Forgotten Felines.

Forgotten Felines, along with the humane society and Stop the Overpopulation of Pets, can be overwhelmed at times.

"One hoarding case can put us over the edge," Swisher said.

Linda Chambers, executive director of the humane society, has seen an increase in the cat population.

"It's really bad right now," she said. "We notice that people contact us when they have 15, 20 or 30 cats. It's gotten way out of control before we're informed of it."

In the current case, Swisher has about 15 cats in carriers or cages in her pole barn.

Cats removed from hoarding case 'in shock'

"They're in shock. They don't understand," she said.

Swisher places blankets over some of the cages to help keep the cats calm.

The cat's "owner" left windows open in her trailer, allowing them to come and go as they pleased. Swisher said the conditions were deplorable.

"Needless to say, management wanted her out," she said.

Swisher said the woman plans to keep three cats and relocate to Florida.

Much needed supplies for cats housed at Forgotten Felines of Richland County.
Much needed supplies for cats housed at Forgotten Felines of Richland County.

Animal groups in Richland County help each other. While the humane society contacted Swisher to help with the hoarding situation, Swisher often asks them for carriers.

"What one can't do, the other one picks up," she said. "That's what we need. We can't keep each other down in the animal community."

Each group has its niche. Forgotten Felines focuses on feral cats. The group was started by the late Anne Wendling. Swisher takes care of the cats for the nonprofit agency, while Carla Waleri maintains the veterinary bills.

"(Our monthly bills) used to be in the hundreds," Swisher said. "Now, they're $1,000 to $2,000 a month."

They rely on Phillips Animal Hospital and the Ashland Road Animal Clinic, where Swisher used to work as a vet technician.

Forgotten Felines has an account set up at Phillips Animal Hospital, where people can make donations.

The humane society handles cats that are surrendered by their owners, friendly strays and some that are sick or injured.

In addition, the humane society has agents who can investigate cruelty or neglect cases and seek criminal charges.

STOP care for injured and sick cats

STOP, led by Diana Nolen, focuses on injured cats.

"We have seven that are completely blind," Nolen said of the current crew at the Lexington Avenue facility.

She routinely takes in cats that have been caught in fan belts, suffer from frostbite, have been struck by cars and even shot with bullets.

Like the other Richland County groups, STOP relies on donations. Nolen said most of the donations are smaller.

"I looked it up one year, and it (average donation) was like $39," she said.

Nolen started STOP in 1989.

"Somebody told me about all the cats and dogs they were putting down at the humane society and the dog pound," she said. "We kind of decided cats were the greater need.

"Dogs go into heat twice a year. Cats are usually in heat for two weeks, out for two weeks, until they're bred. I've seen cats have four litters a year."

It's worth noting the humane society and the county dog shelter are no-kill facilities now.

STOP has been in its current location for 22 years.

Nolen would like a new building.

"This house was never meant to hold 100 cats," she said.

Since it moved to the Lexington Avenue location, STOP has spayed or neutered 40,000 cats. Dr. Ryan Berger is the group's veterinarian.

Nolen says STOP is booked until June for those operations.

Rascal Unit does spay/neuter at humane society once a month

On the second Tuesday of each month, the Dublin-based Rascal Unit visits the humane society. It can perform up to 50 spay/neuter operations a day. Appointments are required.

Forgotten Felines of Richland County recently removed more than 15 cats from one home.
Forgotten Felines of Richland County recently removed more than 15 cats from one home.

Swisher said there is a desperate need for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Richland County to prevent situations like the one on the city's north side.

"People mean well," she said of situations that get out of control. "They feed them, and then the babies start. They panic, and then they call me."

Swisher travels around the county collecting cats. Many of the 103,000 miles on her car are from such trips.

She believes the overpopulation situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and evictions.

"It's the perfect storm," Swisher said.

A number of veterinarians stopped doing spay/neuter surgeries during the pandemic, in much the same way some doctors and hospitals cut back on elective surgeries because of COVID.

Chambers laments that kitten season hasn't even started.

"We have nine foster families caring for new moms with litters," she said. "That's a lot for March."

Swisher doesn't see things getting better.

"It's going to continue," she said. "We're going to be swimming in community cats."



Twitter: @MNJCaudill

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Richland County cat groups dealing with overpopulation issue