Group wants to solve the county's feral cat problem

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BENNINGTON — "I heard over and over again about the abandoned cats and feral colonies," said Magdalena Usategui of her first years living in Bennington County.

"I was a trustee of Second Chance Animal Center for ten years," she said. "The shelter cannot rescue and take care of abandoned cats ... I strongly feel and understand that these abandoned animals are the ones that suffer the most. Therefore in 2003, I left to start Francis of Assisi Society for Animals."

Abandoned cats and kittens are rescued from the streets and other locations, Usategui said, adding, "We place them in foster homes where they recuperate physically and mentally. We know the locations to go get the animals through calls from townspeople. We place the cats and kittens in foster homes, where they recuperate physically and mentally."

Many feral cars "are very thin due to malnutrition, are scared of people and sick," she said. "At times the houses that the cats approach for food belong to kind people who feed them. Few people know about Francis of Assisi and what we do. Therefore, many people don't call for help."

Anyone who knows of an abandoned cat, kitten or feral colonies is asked to contact Francis of Assisi by calling 802-236-9123 or writing to P.O. Box 496, Shaftsbury, Vt., 05262.

Few know the extent of the problem, Usategui said. "How many cats, how many kittens, how many feral colonies? Maybe enough people will respond that we will get close to the answers. We certainly should try to solve the cat mystery of Bennington County."

The organizations needs many volunteers, she said.

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"They are essential. We need foster homes; socializing of the cats, trapping and feeding in the feral colonies. With enough animal lovers coming forward, we can take not just the kittens but teenage cats and even a few older ones away from the colonies, socialize them and find them permanent homes. Their lives in a loving home will be much better than in the colony."

Funds are needed by the organization to pay veterinarians and for cat food, she said, including enough to sustain the organization into future, with the hope "the money will keep decreasing as the number of cats in need decreases too."

If not enough foster homes are available, "we may have to return the cats to the homes who fed them until foster homes are available," she said. "If we could get large donations to buy a small house, the cats could be in the house waiting for a foster, or maybe even a permanent home."

Volunteers would take care of the cats in the house, she said

"For trapping, going to the vet and bringing the cats back there is a half-time employee funded through a donation," she said. "We will need another half-time employee. One cannot forget that this organization requiring thousands of working hours costs not a penny to the towns. It's all done for free, by loving volunteers."

Usategui said she believes Francis of Assisi can solve the serious problem of abandoned cats or come close to it with help from the people of local towns.

"Through the work of Francis of Assisi, Bennington County will be known as a county that cares about its cats," she said. "This fact could attract families to come settle here and we certainly need that."


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