MOUNT VERNON — A group of feline advocates is in the process of being formed in Knox County. Called Whisker Connection, it is being formed with the aim of solving the feral cat problem in the county. Initially, the group is going to focus on education, working with county and local governments, and programs in the schools.
The group consists of Tara Smith, president; Carol Bene, vice president; Tessa Miller, treasurer; Jenny Gifford, secretary; and Toni Metcalf, fundraising coordinator.
Although there has been some talk about opening an alternative to the existing Knox County Humane Society Cat Shelter, that is not the goal of Whisker Connection.
“This is something that is still in the works,” said Metcalf. “Some of the things we are discussing right now is a trap and release spay/neuter clinic. Essentially, that is we can trap feral cats — the Gambier population especially — we’d like to work with local governments and see if we can fill a sort of partnership. We would trap the cats, neuter them, make sure they are OK and release them back to the wild.”
Planning is still in the early stages. The group has applied for a nonprofit 501C3 designation from the Internal Revenue Service; until it is received, there will be no fundraising activity.
“We are interested in pursuing an educational route, too,” Smith said. “We want to get into the schools and discuss why you should spay or neuter your cat. We want to change that whole mentality so that we are not having a lot of cute kittens that add to the problem.”
For the time being, the group will have no physical location.
“The idea of an actual bricks-and-mortar location is out of the question right now,” Smith said. “We are more interested in doing the education pieces, and eventually the trap and neuter programs. We want to make sure we have a strong foundation of policies and procedures in place before we would ever even consider taking in surrendered cats. Our goal is not to be just a dumping ground for the community’s irresponsibility. We would rather start to work with them on education first. Eventually, with grants, we would be interested in starting a new location. But that is so far off we couldn’t even conceive of announcing to the public that we would be ready for surrenders.”
The group is not looking at itself as an alternative to the existing shelter.
“We are going a totally different route,” Smith said. “We are working on a grant now that would allow us to start a spay/neuter clinic. Not to rule out the humane society, because I think there is room in this community of our size for multiple groups. There are plenty of dog rescue groups in the area. There are very few cat rescue groups.”
According to Roger Reed, Knox County animal control officer, the Rescue Waggin is the only canine rescue program in the area that picks up dogs at the animal shelter. He said the animal shelter is not in contact with other animal shelters in regard to dogs available for adoption.
The Rescue Waggin, run by PetSmart, transports adoptable dogs to communities on the east coast where there is a shortage of adoptable dogs because of successful spay/neuter programs in many communities.
“But PetSmart does not have a feline rescue program like that,” Miller said.
That is another area, however, in which the group eventually hopes to become active — the transporting of cats out of county to low-kill feline rescue shelters in order to find good homes for healthy cats.
“There is not really a lot of focus on cats in the area,” Miller said about feline rescue programs. “We do not want to come in and replace the humane society or discourage people from using their services. It’s more like here’s the piece that we can provide as well.”
For more information go to www.whiskerconnection.org.