Niagara Gazette

October 31, 2013

DELUCA: The feral cats and their frantic friends

Michele DeLuca commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It started with a single kitty, meowing pitifully outside her door. Apparently, that’s how it almost always starts.

Paola Wojtowicz, who lives in a tidy neighborhood off Hyde Park, did what so many of us might.  She put out food so the feral cat wouldn’t starve. Of course, the cat came back.

When the cat had two little kittens, it made itself a little home in a rabbit hole beneath her shed. Paola, a tiny woman with close cropped hair and a giant heart, was able to trap the kittens — which she brought to be spayed — and then released them. It’s what many cat lovers do to attempt to stem the feral cat problem.  But, she wasn’t able to catch their mom. Weeks ago, the mom cat birthed five more kittens — as ferals can do every 62 days.  

Paola, a widow with an impeccably clean house and magnificent gardens, was able to trap them all. They are now in her lovely living room, where a plastic fence holds a giant dog kennel which holds a kitty carrier, where the mom cat hides. 

I visited Paola yesterday, after she called me, desperate for someone to help her. She introduced me to the babies. One, a black and grey striped beauty, lay just near the door of the carrier where his mom hid. He was on his back, soaking in the rays of sun which streamed through the front windows, looking innocent and perfectly relaxed. A pair of his siblings played nearby, one gently batting the other with a little white paw.

So darned adorable. Yet a part of one of the saddest animal epidemics the region is facing — an explosion of feral cats.

Paola, a native of Venice, Italy, whose heart was stolen by a young American paratrooper in 1957, came to Niagara Falls with her husband, Chester Wojtowicz, as a young woman. They had two lovely children. At 71, she should be enjoying this time in her life. But, caring for the cats is consuming. 

“What would you do?” she asked me in a lilting Italian accent. She is literally at her wits end. But, she’s not alone.

Her neighbors feed 11 cats that wait in their driveway each day. And when I called one of the several organization that deals with unwanted cats, Feline Friends, Shirley Carter, told me there are thousands of stories like Paola’s. Among the assortment of agencies created to help, everybody is in over their heads.

After I left Paola, I drove over to the SPCA of Niagara, which over the past couple years has been trying to restore its reputation with new management after some terrible publicity over excessive killing of animals. I hoped to meet the new director, but she was on her first vacation in the two years since she took over the place. Instead, I met with her assistant, Jackie Suitor, wife of Town of Niagara Police Jim Suitor. Jackie is newly hired from the ranks of the volunteers.

In the office Jackie shares with Amy, there were five newly neutered feral cats, each in a cage. There was no where else to put them. When it’s time to release them, Jackie drives around with 15 or so in cages in her truck and offers them to area farmers, one or two at a time. 

The SPCA, now a no-kill shelter, is overflowing with animals. In the lobby I was greeted by the hopeful wagging tales of two dogs, each in a small cage. Near the door was another pyramid of cages, one which held another small, sweet short-haired dog, and the others holding cats and kittens. People who try to bring animals in get angry when told there is no room, so they often drop and run or release the animal just outside the door. It is an insane situation, but I am told people won’t support the SPCA if creatures are killed. 

So, the SPCA is currently building a new surgery room where more animals can be spayed or neutered. But, in the meantime, Paola is on a months-long waiting list to drop off the five kitties. She could have them spayed through Feral Cat Focus which has a clinic in Blasdell. But that clinic is closing for the season on Tuesday so if the kittens aren’t each 3 pounds by then, Paola will have to keep them all winter if no one else wants them. Then, they will be “fixed” and released. What else can she do?

Everybody tells me the situation is desperate. Those trying to care for abandoned animals in our region need more hands, more money, more space.  I know all those commodities are precious and scarce, but if you are an animal lover and you have any extra, now would be a good time to share. They tell me it’s only going to get worse.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.