By Janet Vormittag, Cats and Dogs Magazine
Reprinted with Permission
When Mary B’s* elderly neighbor died three years ago, she left behind a half dozen barn cats. “I started feeding them and things escalated,” the Ottawa County woman said. The property, including the barn, was sold and the new owners evicted the cats. They also covered all the access holes leaving the kitties homeless. Mary B stepped up to the challenge and built what she calls a log cabin to house the cats. Soon the number of inhabitants started to multiply, and Mary B didn’t know what to do. Then she spotted a donation bank for A Feral Haven in a nearby business. Instead of making a donation, she wrote a note asking for help. Within three days she got a phone call from Debra Westerhof, one of the founders of the non-profit organization.
A Feral Haven was started November 2014 by Westerhof and three friends: Carleen Everett-Bauer, Sara Bennett and Christina DeConinck. Between the four women, they have years of experience advocating for animals including working or volunteering at Harbor Humane Society and BestPals Animal Rescue Center.
A Feral Haven, which has already received its nonprofit 501 (c) 3 status, advocates for feral cats – cats who are not owned or socialized. They’re also known as community cats. Westerhof explained the expression ‘community cats’ means the animals do not have owners. Instead, they belong to the community. Such cats can range from friendly to feral.
One of the goals of A Feral Haven is to help caregivers of community cats by getting the cats spayed/neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped and microchipped, and to help provide food for the animals, if needed. Another goal is to make shelters, or Haven Huts,
that caregivers can put out for the cats. Bennett has been researching cat shelters and has come up with a design the group likes.
The Haven Huts will have a feeding area, two access holes and a removable top for cleaning. They’ll come in a variety of sizes to house different numbers of cats. They’re currently looking for woodworkers who would like to volunteer to help with the project.
Caregivers are asked to fill out a census form so the group knows how many cats are in a colony and eventually in the county. When the cats are microchipped, A Feral Haven is listed as a secondary contact. By microchipping they’ll be able to gather information on the behaviors of feral cats such as how far they travel and how long they live.
Mary B is the first caregiver the group has helped. So far eight of the 16 cats on her property had been livetrapped and taken to West Michigan Spay & Neuter Clinic for surgery and vaccines. Trapping will continue until all the cats have been caught. Any kittens born during the process are left with their mothers until the mom starts to bring them to the feeding station for solid food. Then they are caught, socialized and adopted. Westerhof, who is on the Board of Directors for Harbor Humane Society, said Harbor will take the kittens when they’re ready for adoption. Meanwhile, they stay in foster care.
“They have given me a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mary B said. She is happy the population of cats on her property is under control and now she can enjoy the cats––she has a name for each one. “The cats give me tremendous joy. When I can touch them and they purr, I just melt.”
Westerhof got involved with cats seven years ago when a stray had kittens under her deck. When the mom cat died she had to bottle-feed the babies. She has since become an expert on the care of motherless kittens. So far she has bottle-fed 415 kittens and just received a litter of five 5-day-old orphans that had been dropped off at Harbor.
To get the group started financially, all four women chipped in money. Since then they have held fundraisers. DeConinck is working on obtaining grants for the group, but since the group is new they don’t have the statistics most grants require.
“This is our difficult year financially. We can only do so much,” Westerhof said. She added that area pet supply stores have been helping by donating food. A long-term goal of the group is to establish A Feral Haven Sanctuary. “It would only be for cats who can’t stay where they are,” Westerhof said. They would love 20 to 40 acres that has a barn with utilities. In April the group held a meet-and-greet in Holland that was open to the public. Eighteen people attended. Some were community cat caregivers and others were from area animal welfare organizations. Melody Cassidy, a clinic assistant at West Michigan Spay & Neuter Clinic, said they receive several calls a week about feral cats. To donate to this organization, click here.
Westerhof said there isn’t any group helping feral cats in Ottawa County. Harbor Humane Society no longer accepts feral cats unless they are injured. “We want people to call us for help,” she said.
For more information, to get involved or if you need help with feral cats…
* Mary B asked that we not use her last name.