Members of a Cat Colony in Dolgeville, photo courtesy of Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. Project

by Carol Vogel

Abandoned and left to fend for themselves, stray cats are a stark reminder of how animals are thrown away in our society. Many of these cats are feral, may have been mistreated, are not socialized, and therefore, are not adoptable. Finding shelter in abandoned homes or buildings, they breed at alarming rates and cause concerns for our neighborhoods and communities. In Dolgeville, a group of concerned citizens came together to humanely solve the cat community problem in their town. They formed the Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. (Cat Action Team) Project: and they hope other communities will follow their lead.

What is TNR?

Many communities and shelters have implemented Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs to great success, such as the Dolgeville C.A.T. Project. TNR is a multi-step process, beginning with humanely trapping the cats. They are then taken to Veterinary Clinics to be spayed/neutered and vaccinated. The cats are then returned to their outdoor home, to continue living the life to which they are accustomed.

TNR helps stabilize the size of colonies by eliminating the opportunities for new litters. Some negative behaviors associated with feral cats (fighting, marking, and yowling for example) are dramatically reduced once they have been neutered. In turn, this practice will lessen the number of kittens and cats flowing into already overwhelmed shelters.

The Dolgeville project focuses on helping the colonies that have a caretaker. Caryl Hopson, a founding member of the Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. Project explains, “We aren’t just going to pluck a stray cat off the street – spay or neuter it and drop it back off – that is not how a TNR program works. We work closely with people, and we do keep in touch. And they keep in touch with us.”

Networking and Community

Caryl explains how their program took shape. “We had an outdoor colony that was causing a problem, including a possible rabies exposure and so we immediately contacted our Mayor and said we would like to do something to help control this in a humane way.”

Caryl had been involved in various animal rescue and welfare groups in the area. She approached some of her friends and contacts within that network, who in turn knew other people who were willing to help the cause of a TNR program. “Networking is important. We are all in this together to help animals” she stresses.

“We’re a small group but you don’t need a lot of people if everyone puts in the work”. Caryl says the group is tight-knit, and has bonded over their work of humanely trapping, transporting, releasing, and keeping up communication with the caretakers and neighborhoods they serve.

“The first colony we helped with started with someone leaving behind their cat when they moved. And it was outdoors so someone started feeding it…” Caryl begins, “so of course, if you start feeding outdoors – you’re going to start attracting other cats that are unaltered and then you’re going to have litters and then those litters are going to have litters … so by the time we helped this guy there were 25 cats there.”

Working closely with the caretaker who was feeding the cats, the CAT Project was able to spay and neuter all 25 cats. They are currently planning a follow-up visit to see if there are any new cats that have joined the colony.

By taking the basics of a TNR program and tailoring it to fit Dolgeville and its surrounding areas, they’ve developed a system and have the stats to prove its success. “Our TNR program improves the lives of cats, addresses community concerns, reduces complaints about cats, and stops the breeding cycle. It’s a win for the community and the cats’ caretakers because it reduces the population and makes the cats less of a nuisance, and it’s a win for cats because now they’re healthier and can live a less stressful life.”

The achievements of the Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. Project are impressive:

  • In December 2020, they hosted a mobile spay/neuter clinic at Dawn’s Dawgs in Dolgeville, working with the FARVets (https://www.facebook.com/FARVets/ ) program, helping 40 cats
  • They have rescued and found homes for 74 friendly homeless cats through foster homes and networking with area shelters
  • Through donations, they have been able to provide financial assistance to help owners in their area fund the cost of the spay/neuter surgery, helping 66 cats
  • In March 2022, in their most recent vet visit, they helped their 300th cat!

FARVets Clinic at Dawn’s Dogs. Photo courtesy of Dolgeville C.A.T. Project

The group consists of 9 members currently: Donna Delucco, Dawn Glode, Caryl Hopson, Casey James, Dot James, Erin James, Brenda Naizby, Penny Primeau, and Marge Youker. “We have such a great group!” Caryl comments. Besides having big hearts and taking their work seriously to help animals, the group also has a sense of humor. One member, Casey James, has playfully nicknamed the group “The Real Cat Ladies of Dolgeville”.

Funding and Education

Their project participated in the annual Staffworks Fund “Save a Life” Campaign in December of 2021. “We contacted them and they were excited about what we were doing. Anita Vitullo, the founder of Staffworks, actually contacted me personally to find out about our program.” Caryl was excited to say they had raised $8,433.74 on their own. These donations were matched dollar for dollar by The Staffworks Fund, for a grand total of $16,867.48. Support from donors and the Fund will help sustain this program and continue the mission to help homeless cats and the local community.

Stray Cats in Little Falls. Photo by Carol Vogel

“We want to encourage other communities to start a program themselves. It is possible. You just need to get like-minded people together, we’re a small group, but we are doing great things. We were lucky because we came under the umbrella of Dolgeville Forward, so we didn’t need to start our own non-profit, it was already there and they welcomed us with open arms. The best way to do this is to try to network with an organization that already exists.” Caryl suggests finding an animal welfare organization or a community organization that would bring you under their umbrella enabling you to fundraise for your program.

“We are willing to do outreach and explain to individuals about our program and how it benefits. It’s a long-term-humane solution.” Caryl adds. Connections between communities is important to continue educating and putting people in touch with others who can offer help in some way.

Caryl and members of “The Real Cat Ladies of Dolgeville” would be happy to speak to anyone who might be interested in starting a TNR program in their community or neighborhood. They have much to share from their experiences and are happy to help guide others in their efforts to save community cats. The group also recommends Alley Cat Allies, (https://www.alleycat.org/resources/how-to-help-community-cats-a-step-by-step-guide-to-trap-neuter-return/) a helpful online resource the C.A.T. Project used, for anyone interested in getting more information.

How can you help?

  • Spay/Neuter your pets
  • Keep pet cats indoors
  • Surrender pets you are no longer able to care for to shelters/animal welfare groups for proper and safe re-homing
  • If you are a caretaker and feeding a colony – reach out for help!

If you are looking for help with pets or stray animals in the Dolgeville, Salisbury, or Oppenheim area, the Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. Project provides low-cost spay/neuter. The group has a FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Nonprofit-organization/Dolgeville-Forward-CAT-Project-TrapNeuterReturn-104393784295945/ ) where you can follow and contact them or you can call the Dolgeville Village Clerk at 315-429-3112 to leave a message for the group.

Donations to the Dolgeville C.A.T. Project can be sent to:

“The Dolgeville Forward C.A.T. Project”
PO Box 71
Dolgeville, NY 13329