With the demolition of the Union Steel building approaching, Albion College students and Albion residents alike have expressed concern for the stray cats living inside the abandoned building.
Friends of Albion’s Animals — a non-profit organization that works to manage colonies of feral cats and promote responsible cat ownership — has confirmed there are two cats currently living in the former industrial site just behind Munger Hall, but they don’t want to remove them just yet.
“The cats being at Union Steel is actually a good thing because it keeps other cats from coming in and staking a claim,” said Adeia Strong, senior board director.
Secretary Jason Strong, who is married to Adeia, confirmed that when the demolition date is set, the organization will go in and trap the cats and move them to a safe location.
Responding to concerns about feral cats in Albion is a common day occurrence for Friends of Albion’s Animals, and is just one of the many roles they play in the Albion community.
The Beginning of a Cat-friendly Future
Friends of Albion’s Animals formed in October 2013 in response to an ordinance headed by then-city manager Daniel Bishop. The ordinance would have prevented Albion citizens from feeding and taking care of cats outside because there was a fear of disease and birds being killed if there was a large population of cats.
“Seven like-minded people got together after the council meeting said, ‘Hey, this is a problem. We need to fix it,’” said Jason.
The group successfully appealed the city council’s original decision to pass the ordinance and became authorized by the city to start a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program.
The idea of spaying, neutering and releasing feral and stray cats originated in the United Kingdom in the 1980s under the group Alley Cat Allies. The program translated over to the United States and has had success all over the country.
“Spaying and neutering and release is a humane management system for these [cat] colonies,” said Adeia. “The trap-and-kill method is what people used to do, and that’s what they were proposing to do in Albion [when the ordinance passed], which is why this group formed.”
Not only is TNR effective in managing Albion’s 15 cat colonies, said Friends of Albion’s Animals, it also prevents an imbalance in the ecosystem. The group explained that simply killing and removing cats from the town won’t work. Without cats, more rodents, bugs and pests will come in to town, and eventually new predators may come in as well.
TNR also keeps the population of cats in check. In every litter of kittens – usually consisting of three to seven kittens – two to three kittens will be female. If those female kittens aren’t caught, they will become pregnant which will lead to exponential growth in the area cat population.
“Pregnancy is eight to nine weeks and then they deliver,” said Adeia. “They go back into heat within two weeks of delivery. [A female cat] could even be nursing and pregnant at the same time. It’s a ridiculous cycle.”
Friends of Albion’s Animals Animals runs a shuttle service up to Olivet where for $40 cats are spayed and neutered and receive immunizations including rabies. After the cats are treated in Olivet, the cats can be treated locally at a vet in Albion with discount prices on other immunizations.
Another role of the organization is educating the community about cats and counteracting misinformation and misconceptions about TNR. A recent cat hoarding situation that the organization responded to shows how a lack of education can result in hazardous health situations for cats.
“We were told six cats originally and it ended up being close to 20,” said Adeia said. “That’s because three of them were very pregnant. [The owner] didn’t believe in birth control and she said that fixing a cat was tantamount to murder.”
The group also organizes a fostering program for the cats. Whether a cat found outside will eventually be fostered and adopted depends on the type of cat. Feral cats often can’t be socialized and will run from humans. If someone tries to pick them up, the cats will likely scratch and bite. Some abandoned cats are traumatized by abuse and neglect and will be hesitant to interact with humans but may in time start to interact with people again.
“Then you have the abandoned cats that are friendly as all get out,” said Jason. “They’ll come up to you and you can pick them up and take them home. We try to get those cats in foster homes, into the community, so we can give them a second chance.”
The majority of Albion citizens fostering cats are members of Friends of Albion’s Animals. Anyone can be a member, however. There is a partial background check and a reference check. Local Humane Society groups are contacted to make sure a potential candidate for the foster program isn’t on a blacklist.
How Students Can Help
Student members of Friends of Albion’s Animals pay $12 a year for a membership and are required to participate in one fundraising event. These events include Albion Farmer’s Markets, the French market, the Festival of the Forks or one of the luncheons the group hosts.
“The money you give for your membership dues stays in the community and $12 actually provides vaccinations for two cats,” said Adeia. “It may not seem like much [money], but we negotiated rates with both vets in town and they totally support what we do.”
Students are also encouraged to host events like bake sales to help raise money for the organization, or to hold food drives and shelter drives. For shelter drives, the organization is looking for supplies like plastic foam coolers, plastic totes, towels, blankets, carriers and old dog crates.
“Last year we were struggling to get shelters built, especially during the Polar Vortex,” Adeia said. “People were freaking out that strays and feral cats were running around outside and there weren’t shelters for them. We did the best we could, but we definitely always need more shelter supplies.”
Friends of Albion’s Animals also have meetings at Biggby every third Saturday of the month, and people are welcome to drop off food, clean litter boxes, toys and shelter supplies. All donations stay in the community.