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By Connie Leinbach
As she gazed at the rows of trapped feral cats in the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Dept., Cynthia Hall felt she was seeing all of her own cats’ relatives.
Hall, of Pleasant Garden, Guilford County, visited Ocracoke to help especially with the Ocracats spay-neuter clinic that ended Thursday.
A frequent visitor to the island, Hall has adopted four island cats. She helped from when the clinic began Tuesday until the last of the traps and other supplies were gone Thursday afternoon from the brush-truck bay in the firehouse on Irvin Garrish Highway.
“Ocracats just won my heart,” she said as she helped another volunteer put a just-spayed female cat into a carrier. “To see this amount of love given to these cats instead of what could have been… This is the most amazing effort and gift to these cats I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
Ocracats is a nonprofit organization staffed by volunteers strictly to care for and control the feral cat population on the island since there are no veterinarians here.
The clinics have been held the last two years just in September when Dr. Howard Johnson, a veterinarian from Boone, can visit the island for the week with his family and have a multi-day set up.
The clinic that ended Thursday involved the volunteer help of many islanders to assemble more than 40 stored Havahart traps, organize set-up in the firehall, set and trap feral cats all over the island, monitor their surgeries and post-op, sell T-shirts, return the cats to their colonies, clean-up and breakdown traps to return to storage.
This year, the clinic fixed 35 cats: 17 females, and 18 males, said Ruth Fordon, president. Thursday was mainly for islanders’ pets.
The total number of cats served was close to the same number of ferals we fixed last year, she said.
“We trapped and released a lot of cats with notched ears, and that tells us we are successful in our mission.”
Vets notch feral cats’ ears to indicate they’ve been fixed.
This shows the island has made progress in controlling the feral cat population.
“I’m not seeing as many cats on the island when I drive around,” Johnson noted.
In 2012, Ocracats received a $21,000 grant from PetSmart Charities to conduct at least two such clinics per year over about two and a half years.
The first year of the grant, the Ocracat volunteers rallied to conduct four clinics. That concerted effort made the first big dent in the estimated 1,500 feral cat population on the island at the time, and since 2012, Ocracats estimates that over 600 ferals have been neutered or spayed, Fordon said.
However, kittens continue to be born on the island year-round as many of the mom and father cats are savvy to the traps and elude capture.
But, Ocracats has started a kitten adoption registry whenever kittens show up. Both islanders and visitors like to adopt these special “Ocracats,” Fordon said. “Since last October, 37 kittens have been adopted.”
Fordon noted that it’s great that islanders who have adopted kittens use the spay-neuter service to stem the tide of more kittens.
“Ocracats is helping out the local folks adopting kittens,” she said. “We don’t want people to not get a kitten spayed or neutered because of the cost and time it takes to go off the island to have this done.”
Donations to Ocracats throughout the year pay for Johnson’s services for both the ferals and adopted ferals, and the large food bills that accrue for the colonies.
Hyde County Health Dept. covers the cost of rabies vaccinations to all of the cats receiving surgery or treatment.
Hall, a retired special education teacher, on Friday reluctantly returned home to her cats, all of whom she has given island names, such as Angus O’Neal, Capt. Molasses, Jobelle and Sarah Jane Spencer.
“I’ve made some friends,” she said about her camaraderie with other volunteers. “That makes the island even more special. This has been such a joy to be able to do this and know that these cats have a better shot at a happy life.”
Anyone interested in donating to Ocracats may send a check to: P.O. Box 993, Ocracoke, 27960, or make a donation in any of the donation jars in several island businesses.
Ocracats T-shirts are available for purchase in Mermaid’s Folly.
All donations and merchandise proceeds pay for feeding the feral colonies, the spay-neuter clinics and other supplies Ocracats needs.