April 17, 2024

Carol McKee’s Feral Cat Colony Fight

“The end is not in sight.”
By Ross Boissoneau | Nov. 24, 2018

Catch and release has become popular in fishing. In Benzie County, Carol McKee is playing the catch and release game — but with cats.
It’s a little more involved than that. McKee oversees the efforts of Community Cats of Benzie County (BenzieCats.org) to reduce the number of feral cats by trapping them and then spaying or neutering them. Those that are capable of being domesticated are then fostered out and eventually adopted.
For the rest, those that often live in colonies (yes, colonies) are returned to their place of origin. It’s an effort not only to provide homes for stray cats, but to limit their numbers.
And it’s an ongoing battle. “They do form [colonies]. They grow because they’re mating. You typically don’t see them. They’re wild. They hang around food sources,” said McKee. Those food sources can be restaurant dumpsters, where the cats scatter when people come around. Another is when those who feel sorry for the cats begin to feed them, though it’s rare for the wild cats to actually become domesticated.
Enter McKee, who seeks to address the population growth by eliminating new births. It’s called TNR, for Trap, Neuter, Release. “I practiced it in Allen Park and worked with rescue [organizations]. I’ve worked with dogs, but there’s no dog problem that I know of” in northern Michigan, said McKee.  
Colonies of cats, on the other hand, are a problem, though one that few know about. “That’s why people don’t see the problem — they don’t see them,” said McKee. As an example, she cited a colony in the Lake Ann area. She said they have trapped and neutered 28, and there’s another eight to 10 to go. If those remaining cats are not captured and treated, the whole cycle begins again.
All told, in the three years she has been running the nonprofit, she estimates she’s trapped, neutered, and released over 700 cats. “The first one we did when we started the program was in Bendon,” said McKee. An elderly man had been taken to Munson, and those who took him had seen a very large number of cats in and around his property. “We trapped over 40 cats there. We took 19 kittens who were young enough to be socialized.”
Among the challenges she says is getting people to recognize that feeding stray cats leads to a problem. Another is when people continue to take in and feed cats long after they’ve passed the point they can truly take care of them. Some people refuse to allow them to trap the cats. “We don’t run into that too often, but in on case in Thompsonville, the owner refused to allow us to trap them,” said McKee. “I don’t know why he was against it. There’s no fee,” she said, though she often asks for a donation.
McKee vacationed in the area until moving north following her retirement from her veterinary practice. She had initiated a similar program downstate and realized quickly that Benzie County was also in need of population control for feral cats. She enlisted the aid of an old veterinary school friend, Dr. David Nelson, owner of Platte Lake Veterinary Clinic.
“It’s an issue,” agreed Nelson. “I’ve worked with the animal welfare league for years, trying to address it.” He said so-called “cat hoarding” has many negative ramifications. “The real feral cat problem is ignorance of feeding outdoor cats,” said Nelson, asking somewhat mischievously, “Would you feed a colony of rats?”
He has allowed McKee to use his facility, though that might not be necessary much longer. McKee has purchased a building in Frankfort, half of which will be rented out, with the other half being turned into an adoption center and surgery center for Benzie Community Cats. “The fun part is placing the kittens, but the focus is the TNR.”
McKee said this program is the only one like it in the region, though there are a couple others in the state in Flint and Ludington. She said she goes “colony by colony” to address the cat population. But though she continues to work industriously, she’s also up-front about the problem. “The end is not in sight.”


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