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Urban Ferals

The photo gallery below features the cats available for adoption highlighted in the following story.

The dog for the man, the cat for the woman.
English Proverb

SHELTON, Conn. – Lisa Richards has 13 cats ready for adoption – 10 adults and three kittens. There are the triplets, called Hugs, Kisses and Snuggles – black as ink and fluffy like angora. Richards says they were dumped by someone at Seaside Park in Bridgeport. She named them by how they interacted with her when she first picked them up.

“Paws on my neck means hugs, a nose to my cheek means kisses, and if she stuck her head in my bosom, that’s snuggles,” she says smirking.

There’s Blue, named for the intense color of his eyes, who’s a one-and-a-half-year-old Siamese left to fend for himself at the city dump in Danbury. Richards says he has megacolon which, in veterinarian jargon, means severe constipation. He comes with a year’s supply of Metamucil says Richards.

“Blue can’t be around other cats. He doesn’t like them,” she says to a curious onlooker. This is why Blue is on the opposite side of the room.

“But he likes people,” Richards says as she sticks her finger in his cage to give his head a scratch.

A Cornucopia of Cats

Every Saturday, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Richards hosts a cat adoption at the H3 Pet Supply store on Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton.

Richards, a graphic designer from Trumbull, Conn., is the founder of Operation Spay – a nonprofit dealing with feral cats in Bridgeport and the surrounding communities.

“So many people just choose to ignore the problem thinking it’s not theirs and it’ll go away,” she says referring to the public’s perception that feral cats are dangerous and a nuisance. “That’s where I educate.”

Richards, with long, straight black hair, flushed cheeks and a zaftig shape, is a stray and feral cat caregiver and rescuer. She started 25 years ago while studying at the University of Bridgeport. It was her first exposure to feral cats. She says the cats lingered on campus because the students fed them.

“Those were some fat pussies,” she says laughing.

Bird feeder by Lisa Richards; birds enter tail side; $40 at H3 Pet Supply (click photo) image: STM

Richards is inclined toward a ribald sense of humor.

She finds cats when people call Operation Spay telling her about a problem in their neighborhood, or she goes to hot spots in Bridgeport where the cats are likely to gather.

Man Versus Animal

Common predators to feral cats living in a rural setting are coyotes and the red tailed hawk. The cats also succumb to viruses such as feline infectious peritonitis which is seen quite often in cats that are part of a large pride.

In the city, feral cats must keep watch for something far more dangerous and insidious than mere disease.

Richards says it’s common to see people lacing cat food with rat poison or putting shards of glass in raw hamburger and setting it out for strays.

“Antifreeze is another one,” she says with a disgusted look on her face.

Connecticut has anti-cruelty laws for animals but enforcing them is difficult. The perpetrator must be caught in the act.

Cindy Socha and her partner, Lisa Gay, who own H3 Pet Supply, adopted a cat they named Faith from the Bridgeport Animal Shelter. Both women are cat rescuers. Socha says someone set the cat on fire. It was languishing at the shelter so they brought the cat home. Faith is almost back to 100 percent says Socha.

Lisa’s Adoption

About the Video: Filmed on location at the H3 Pet Supply store in Shelton, Conn. Shot on Saturday, April 24, 2010 in high definition. Edited using iMovie. Behind the Scenes: One of the more interesting characters in a cast of many to show at the pet store that day was a German woman from Fairfield by the name of Evelyn Reynolds. Rushing into the pet store as it was about to close, Reynolds spoke excitedly about a stray cat she picked up on the way home from Massachusetts. Like the others in these stories, Reynolds is a cat rescuer. She bought some supplies for her newfound feline friend and dashed out of the store as quickly as she had entered. Come to find out, Evelyn had once dated Arnold Schwarzenegger, and she’s a professional designer and weaver of custom-made rugs. Speaking in a noticeable German accent, she revealed how she came to the United States under the threat of jail time in Germany for possession of steroids. Apparently, they were found in her then bodybuilder boyfriend’s gym bag. She sought asylum in Florida where she had friends.

A Woman’s Work

Socha has a theory why most people who work with feral cats are women. She calls it her “Caveman Theory.”

“Cavemen did only two things back then, hunt and make babies,” she says. “Women had to do all the rest.” She says a woman’s natural ability to multitask makes her better suited for rescue work.

Gay, who is, by demeanor, more matter-of-fact, chalks it up to maternal instinct.

All three women do believe some feral cats can be rehabilitated to the point where they can live with humans.

Cindy points to Roscoe as living proof. Roscoe is a nine-month-old gray cat who was born feral. He, his sister and mother were taken to a shelter. Socha fostered all three and socialized them to where

National Feral Cat Day (click photo) image: STM

mother and daughter were adopted by the same family.

Socha says the process involves keeping them in cat cages in the home around humans for the first week, and then gradually introducing more elements of human-to-cat contact until they are domesticated.

Feral kittens can be easily assimilated into a home if done before they reach six weeks of age.

The Rules of the Game

When Richards traps feral cats, she finds putting canned sardines or mackerel in the cage to be the most effective bait. She bases when she traps on the number of appointments she makes for sterilization at the H.O.P.E. spay and neuter clinic in Waterbury in any given week.

All the cats Richards provides for adoption have been vaccinated at the clinic. All are spayed or neutered unless they are too young. Kittens can be sterilized as young as six weeks. It’s a practice called pediatric spay/neuter.

Richards requires a $75 dollar donation to Operation Spay if someone adopts a kitten. There’s no adoption fee for adult cats. She does this because most people prefer to adopt kittens. Rescued adult cats are much harder to place she says.

She provides full disclosure about the cats if any have health problems or peculiar personalities. That is why she tells everyone about Blue’s megacolon or Roscoe’s moodiness.

She says she averages 400 adoptions per year. She figures the number of feral cats taken to the clinic for sterilization by her to be 4,000 per year. Considering her business card for Operation Spay states, “A single unspayed cat and her offspring can produce 100,000 kittens in seven years,” she’s making some significant inroads to keeping the cat population under control in Connecticut.

All cats adopted can be returned if things don’t work out.

“I offer that because it’s much more important to me to be assured the cat is in a good home. The last thing I want to see happen is for a cat I helped to place get abandoned again,” she says.

The tally for the day when the pet store’s doors close: five out of 13 cats adopted including Blue and the triplets.

Bridgeport Animal Shelter donation bin outside H3 Pet Supply image: STM

Not bad considering the mistress of ceremonies is allergic to cats.

To adopt a cat, or for help with ferals in your neighborhood, contact Lisa Richards at 1-203-258-1425 or email her at OpSPAY@earthlink.net.

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