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Woman takes care of almost two dozen feral cats

Feral cats prowl around July 9 outside the home of Tina Hold in Springfield. Many of the feral cats she feeds scatter after their morning meal but return the next day. Holdman feeds about two dozen every morning.
Feral cats prowl around July 9 outside the home of Tina Hold in Springfield. Many of the feral cats she feeds scatter after their morning meal but return the next day. Holdman feeds about two dozen every morning.

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – If it weren’t for a local nonprofit specializing in stray animal colony management, Springfield resident Tina Holdman would be in serious trouble.

Holdman, 47, said feral cats started flocking to the property where she lives with her son and daughter about 7 or 8 years ago. Now, she’s directly responsible for feeding almost two dozen of them.

“I feed between 20 and 23 cats a day,” she said Tuesday.

She thinks the cats started coming when the animal pound moved from near the Illinois State Fairgrounds to its new location off South Dirksen Parkway near Ash Street. She said residents who didn’t know the pound had moved might have just dumped the animals near the old building, now the Sangamon County Office of Emergency Management.

Luckily, Holdman’s neighbors don’t mind the petting zoo their neighborhood has become. “Nobody cares around here; they’re all good with it,” she said.

One neighbor, Jay Kennedy, said Wednesday that, while his wife isn’t in love with the cats, he doesn’t mind them.

“They don’t really bother me,” he said. “They keep the mice population down. I’ve never see mice or rabbits around here.”

But the 20-some cats she takes care of now could soon be more because three of them are pregnant. Holdman is familiar with feral cats’ reproductive tendencies since, in the last 3.5 years, she’s taken 91 animals – most of them feral (meaning untamed, wild) cats – to get spayed or neutered.

In less than 4 years, that many spay and neuter operations can add up. Holdman’s bill with the Animal Protective League, which performs the operations, would have been around $2,600.

Deana Corbin, the league’s executive director, said a PetSmart grant APL received to pay for the operations is available to anyone living in the 62702, -03 or -04 ZIP code, covering most of the city.

“Those areas are where we see the most intake,” she said, estimating that, over the life of the multiyear grant, APL could perform as many as 3,500 operations.

Because she lives in the 62702 ZIP code, Holdman is covered.

She said the “trap-neuter-release” method of feral cat colony management is the most effective way to control populations, rather than just rounding up the animals in bulk and dumping them someplace else.

“They’ll come back,” Holdman said. “I’ve heard of people taking their cats five, six, seven miles away, and they come back.”

Corbin said if there’s enough food and space for the animals, they’ll “hyper-reproduce.” She said males will come from miles around if they know a female is in heat.

“But as cats are spayed and neutered, nuisance behaviors diminish,” she said.

In addition to the operations, APL makes sure the animals are vaccinated for rabies before they’re released. Cats treated at the league can be identified easily by looking at their ears. If one has the tip of its left ear missing, it’s been to APL.

The trap-neuter-release method appeals to Holdman because it’s a way to manage colonies without sending animals to the pound to be put down.

“I can’t lay my head down and sleep unless I know these cats have been fed, they have water, they have shelter,” she said.

And she doesn’t just stick to her own neighborhood. Holdman helps other residents who have feral cat problems, too.

“That’s what I do. I try to help people who are overburdened by cats or help people who can’t afford to get them fixed,” she said, adding that APL’s method is “definitely, for sure” a good resource for anyone in the community who has an animal problem.

In addition to providing spay and neuter procedures, Corbin said the APL will give residents with animal problems traps and teach them how they work.

“We also have a pet food bank,” Corbin said, “that we offer for people who can’t afford food for their animals.”

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