Francis of Assisi Society for Companion Animals looks to do more to help cats


BENNINGTON — For over 15 years, Magdalena Usategui of Shaftsbury, director of the Francis of Assisi Society for Companion Animals, has been helping find homes for abandoned and feral cats. But with more help from the community, she said, the organization could do so much more.

"We are getting more and more requests to help abandoned cats and kittens," said Usategui, "and these require funding and resources that we do not currently have. Just this week, we acquired three young cats, because a woman was leaving them behind when she moved. We then rescued five tiny kittens that were not wanted. We got a call to rescue a pregnant cat living under one of the buildings at the old Greenberg's store (on Main Street in Bennington) and we are trying to catch her before the kittens are born."

"So far, we have never said no to a request to help these animals," she said. "The 'so far' is important, though. In the very near future, the lack of resources — money, foster homes, and volunteers — will prevent us from being able to help every single animal that needs it."

Usategui said she saw her organization as serving in a role that compliments the work of Second Chance Animal Center in Shaftsbury, where she served on the board of directors for 10 years, until 2002. "We help the many homeless cats and kittens that never reach Second Chance, and try to do everything that Second Chance does not do. Second Chance does a good job, but they mostly deal with animals that are brought to them, and they cannot handle all of those alone. Nor are they able to deal with the many feral cats trying to survive without a home."

"Animals living in the streets are hungry, lonely, and often sick and in pain," she said. "Without help they will die. We at Francis of Assisi have seen enough suffering and certainly, these homeless animals have experienced more than their share of suffering. It is wonderful to see them respond both physically and emotionally after they reach us. They slowly begin to demonstrate love after their fear and hunger fades. At that point, we feel like we won a big prize: we fought cruelty and misery and made this world a tiny bit better."

The society works to address the route causes of the Bennington area's feral and abandoned cat problem by spaying and neutering cats to keep the feral population down, as well as attempting to socialize the animals and find them homes. The group is currently taking care of 10 cats, Usategui said on Monday, but with more volunteers and funding they could do more. She said that if they were able to capture and spay 30 cats a month, they would be able to address all of the feral cats in Bennington and Pownal, the areas with the most cats, they could have them all spayed within three years. While that level of turnover seems unlikely now, with the group handing only about 50 cats a year, with more local families who are willing to house the cats and help socialize them while the society looks for permanent homes, they could continue to work toward that goal.

"My dream is to be able to deal with all the feral cats in Bennington and Pownal," said Usategui. "If we get more donations and volunteers, there's no reason we couldn't do more."

To contact the organization, call 802-236-9123 or write to P.O. Box 496 Shaftsbury, VT 05262.

Derek Carson can be reached at, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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