McKee Works To Reduce Pet Population

January 22, 2018

We were recently written up in the Benzie County Record Patriot. Here’s the full article:

Reducing the number of feral cats and stemming the tide of the pet-overpopulation problem is a daunting task, but that doesn’t stop veterinarian Carol McKee from trying.

McKee started Community Cats of Benzie County in 2016 with fellow veterinarian Mary Rupley. The goal of the organization is to trap feral cats in areas where there is a large population, and spay and neuter them. They are then returned to where they were captured, and marked as being sterile. When they can, the organization works with property owners who often feed and act as caretakers for the cats. Cat caretakers are taught how to take care of the animals, and alert Community Cats if a new cat appears.

Community Cats also captures feral kittens, who, when caught young enough, can acclimate to living with humans. The program takes the kittens to a variety of community events and businesses, where they are adopted out.

The program is run completely by donations and volunteers, though McKee and Rupley provided seed money. McKee and Rupley do the operations are done at Platte Valley Veterinarian.

In the first year, the program sterilized over 200 cats and adopted out “many” kittens. In 2017, 334 cats were sterilized, and 80 kittens were placed in homes.

“We started the program to decrease the number of unwanted cats in Benzie County,” McKee said. “We found there was no program in place for feral cats. The problem with feral cats is they are wild. They can’t go into the shelter. They would be afraid and they’d scratch and bite. The only thing the shelter could do was loan people a trap and have them take the cats to a local vet to have it euthanized. Many people don’t want to do that.”

McKee said a lot of people who feed feral cats often don’t feel like they own the cats, or that they have a financial responsibility to get them spayed or neutered, so she wanted Community Cats to be a resource for caretakers.

As for why she had a passion for trying to reduce the cat population, McKee said it was her love of animals and an understanding there was nowhere for people to turn to with a feral cat population.
“Well, obviously, I like cats, and I like dogs,” she said. “What called to me was there was nowhere for people to turn. That’s why we’ll help outside of Benzie, too. We want to give people taking care of cats an option other than euthanasia or letting nature take its course. It is hard to see those cats out there, fending for themselves. It has been going on for thousands and thousands of years; I don’t know if we’ll ever get a full grasp of the situation. People can be irresponsible. At least cats that have been trapped and sterilized are healthier. They’re not out there looking for mates and starting a fight. They mark their territories less and don’t yowl as much. They’re less of a nuisance.”

Rupley said while she and McKee both started Community Cats, McKee has been the public figure and spearheading the organization’s efforts.

“She is passionate about this,” Rupley said. “I go along, do what she wants to do and help out any way I can. She’s always putting the program out there. She’s a visionary, and the one who really got the program going. We both talked about starting it, but she’s the one who actually pushed it through.”

Rupley said not many people care about feral cats, and the ones who do, are often derided.

Jaime Croel, assistant animal control officer for Benzie County, said Community Cats was a welcome program.

“It is nice to have a group in here to help the feral cats,” Croel said. “It is hard for us to handle and place feral cats. They’re wild and they don’t acclimate to homes. When people think about feral cats, they think of them as a nuisance, but if they’re fixed, they don’t reproduce, and they keep the rodent population down, as well as keep raccoons away.”

Doreen Carter, of the Animal Welfare League of Benzie County, said Community Cats had the same goals as the league; reduce the population.

“The Animal Welfare League of Benzie County and Community Cats have worked on a few projects together and things went well,” Carter said. “Both organizations have the same goal; getting animals fixed and stopping reproduction. The program has been able to take some of the burden off of the county since these cats normally are not brought into the shelter. Each organization is referring specific situations to each other and making things more positive for our community.”

McKee said, in the future, she hopes Community Cats could help provide the funding for low income residents to get their pets spayed and neutered.

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