By Mark Lastinger
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – A very effective method of saving feline lives is running out of funds.
The Effingham County Animal Shelter is soliciting donations for its Barn Cat program, which pays for feral cats to be neutered and returned to pre-approved sites.
“We are in desperate need of funds,” said animal shelter director Lorna Shelton.
The Barn Cat program helps the shelter become a no-kill operation.
“The goal is to end the euthanasia of healthy animals,” Shelton said. “Obviously if they’re sick or aggressive, that’s not the case.”
Shelton said the shelter was taking in 2,500 animals a year when she joined. Feral cats made up about half of that total, she added.
“At the end of the year, when I published my figures, I would euthanize 1,600 animals. The majority of them were cats,” Shelton said.
A visit from a Target Zero representative about two years after Shelton’s arrival led to a change in how the shelter deals with feral cats. Target Zero is a national animal welfare organization designed to reduce animal deaths by euthanasia.
“She introduced me to the (Barn Cat) program and explained to me what it could do,” Shelton said. “I needed to get funding for this and she helped me get a grant that kickstarted it.”
The shelter launched the Barn Cat program in March 2018.
“This is where citizens who notice feral cats in their neighborhood are ready to catch them and take them to the vet,” Shelton said.
The shelter helps citizens by lending cat traps and arranging vet appointments.
“They take the cats to the vet, get them fixed and brought back to their location, and release them because the cats were familiar with the area,” Shelton said. “There’s usually more than one house that feeds the cats in the neighborhood, so the cats live their lives there and they don’t have to go through the shelter.
“This year alone, we will have fixed 755 cats. This means that 755 cats were not transferred to this shelter and we saved 755 lives, plus the offspring they would have originally had.
Shelton described the Barn Cat Program as a “win-win situation”. She says she has noticed fewer “colonies” of cats.
“We spent over $40,000 this year to fix these cats and we should have spent that, whether it was euthanizing them or putting them back outside,” she said.
Kennel assistant Georgiana Steese said the Barn Cat program, if fully funded, is on track to pay for its 2,000th spay in March 2023. On average, the procedure costs $55.
“We’ve exhausted our funds because (755) is the highest we’ve ever set (in a year),” Shelton said. “I think we did 250 in the first year and every year since then we’ve gotten more and more.”
Initially, citizens shared the cost of the Barn Cat program with the shelter, which was bolstered by Helping Out Pets in Effingham (HOPE). The shelter, however, started absorbing all the costs and this led to the current difficulty.
“It was appreciated by the citizens, but we shot ourselves in the foot,” Shelton said. “For the program to work, we’re going to have to share the costs.”
Shelton also called for support from HOPE, which was created in 2012 by Patricia Manser.
“HOPE is a huge benefactor and monetary donations could be used there as well,” Shelton said. “He buys our vaccines, pays for barn cats, buys medical tests and covers some vet visits.”
Donations for HOPE, a 501©3 organization, can be sent to PO Box 2601, Rincon, Ga. 31326.