With a job title as "free roaming cat coordinator" for a group called Humane Ohio, it's a sure bet that Heather Dixon-Reimer knows something about herding cats.
She and colleague Tina Lemmons are doing just that in South Toledo, specifically in the 43609 ZIP Code.
That is where the feral cat population is the focus of Humane Ohio's effort to collect 2,600 stray cats for neutering.
They'll also be returned to their neighborhood.
Humane Ohio, a nonprofit agency that offers low-cost spaying and neutering for cats and dogs, has received grants from several organizations to help reduce the reproduction of stray cats in Toledo.
The situation is critical, said Ms. Dixon-Reimer while setting traps outside a home on Toledo Avenue, off Arlington Avenue.
"Obviously this is a huge problem when you have to get grants," she said.
Humane Ohio estimates the project could take two years to complete.
Outside the home of Nancy Louis on Toledo, traps were set for three cats, one of which had delivered five kittens about four weeks ago.
Mrs. Louis said she has felt sorry for stray cats that wandered into her yard and has fed them and taken many of them to her vet for checkups and neutering.
"There's always someone who will take care of animals, and then there are those who just throw them out," she said.
Humane Ohio practices what it calls trap, neuter, and release, meaning the animals are returned to the neighborhood within days of neutering.
This form of catch and release has a purpose, Ms. Dixon-Reimer said.
Cats are territorial animals.
If established cats are removed from a neighborhood, other cats will move in, especially if food is plentiful.
"It's the vacuum effect," she explained.
Returning neutered cats to their old haunts keeps invaders out, she said, and it helps reduce the number of new kittens.
In addition to the spay and neuter efforts, the nonprofit group, working with the Humane Ohio Pet Food Bank, will give food to people who take care of stray cats, said Jill Borkowski, marketing manager for Humane Ohio.
The focus on the South Toledo area will allow the nonprofit group "to get a really good handle on the stray cat population" in a specific area where there are many, many free roaming and stray cats, she said.
"If we are successful, we hope we can secure grant money to move on to other parts of the city," Mrs. Borkowski said.
The 43609 ZIP Code was selected because statistics from animal shelters and rescue groups show that the largest number of cats surrendered come from the South Toledo area, she said. But she pointed out that "free roaming and stray cats are a problem citywide."
Rather than trap 10 cats here, and 10 there, "we wanted to go into one area," and attack the problem in a concentrated section of Toledo.
Spay and neuter programs are important to reduce the population of stray and free roaming cats, she said.
Postcards will be sent to residents in the target area, and grant money is covering the cost to hire a free-roaming cat coordinator who will knock on doors and talk to residents as well as business owners to let them know about the program, she said.
It could take time to complete the project's goal, she said, in part because there is one coordinator and an estimated 2,600 cats.
A really cool thing, she said, is that Humane Ohio is collaborating with other shelters and rescue groups that have agreed to do some trappings and take some of the friendly cats and kittens when those organizations have space available.
Such collaboration is key to the project, she said.
"We really do want the entire neighborhood to be part of this," she said. "I think we're really aiming to reach out to people already in that ZIP Code who are feeding and caring for those cats in some way.
"We are saying, 'We're here to help,' and to others," she said, "Humane Ohio is saying, 'Call us and let us know where those colonies of cats are living,' and that way, the cats can be trapped and fixed," she said.
Whether people like cats or not, they should want to get involved, she said, because "we're reducing the cat population on the streets."
People who don't like cats, and particularly don't like stray cats, could be motivated to get involved, she said, "because there will be less of those cats."
Neighborhood residents can bring cats to Humane Ohio, and "we hope most will do that, if the cats are friendly and they can catch them."
There are easy-to-use Humane Ohio cat traps that can be borrowed.
"We hope people in the neighborhood will be proactive and do a lot of trapping. We will have people from Humane Ohio who will be organizing large-scale trappings."
Humane Ohio also has launched programs for "pet parents" in Wood County, such as providing once-a-month free transportation to its low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Toledo and free pet food through its Pet Food Bank (this is open to Wood, Lucas, and Monroe counties). Wood County residents, as well as people in surrounding counties, can call to schedule transportation for their pets, she said.
Staff writer Janet Romaker contributed to this story.
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