Brandon reports successful program to control feral cats

BRANDON — Mei Mei Brown is a sucker for cats. A lifelong lover of felines, she is also the driving force behind the Brandon Feral Cat Assistance Program, now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Thanks to Brown’s diligence and love for the animal, what was once a big problem in Brandon is now under control. Over the last decade, 166 feral, or wild, cats have been trapped, spayed or neutered, and released or adopted.
“Yes, I am the crazy cat lady,” Brown joked in an interview last week.
But the program that Brown runs almost single-handedly, along with Christi Koch, also runs solely on donations, which have been few and far between lately. Brown is hoping to get the word out to keep charitable gifts coming in order to sustain the program.
“We don’t need much,” she said. “We can operate on roughly $500 a year.”
It all started back in 2005. Brown had just retired from her job as an Act 250 land use coordinator with the state. Her husband, Bruce, a retired park ranger, was on the Brandon selectboard. A representative from the Rutland County Humane Society appeared before the board to discuss Brandon’s feral cat problem.
“She told the board that outside of Rutland City, Brandon brought in more unowned cats to the shelter than any town in Rutland County,” Brown recalled.
The Humane Society had recently heard about the Trap, Neuter, Return program for feral cats, and asked the board if Brandon would agree to be a pilot town for the program.
“Bruce said, ‘I know just the person for the job,’” Mei Mei Brown said with a laugh.
The town contributed a one-time donation of $500 and the Petco pet supply company added a $2,000 gift to buy the traps and other supplies, and the Brandon Feral Cat Assistance Program was born.
The traps are pressure-plate traps. A bowl of tuna is placed in the back of the box-shaped trap. When the cat steps on the plate, the door behind them closes.
Once trapped, the cats are taken to Otterside Animal Hospital in Brandon, where they are spayed or neutered to prevent them from breeding more feral cats. They are also given a rabies vaccination and, if necessary, antibiotics or other medication.
Brown said Dr. Sue Hayden and the staff at Otterside has been an integral part of the BFCAP’s success.
“I have to give a shout out to Otterside,” Brown said. “They have gone above and beyond. They have been very supportive of the program. We gave them a certificate one year because they have been so, so helpful.”
The vet also tips the cat’s left ear a quarter inch, which Brown said is the international symbol that an unowned cat is spayed or neutered.
“It’s wonderful because if are dealing with a large colony, you can look at a cat in a trap and let them go if their ear is tipped,” Brown said, “instead of bringing them all the way to the vet only to find out they’ve already been spayed or neutered. It saves so much time, energy and unnecessary stress on the cat.”
Working with Otterside, the BFCAP pays for the spaying or neutering, the rabies vaccination, and the ear tipping.
The BFCAP has worked so well that in 2013 not a single feral cat was detected in Brandon. But they are building back. Last year, eight cats were trapped, and just halfway through 2015, Brown has trapped another eight cats, including a mother and five kittens.
And also because of the program’s success in Brandon, the Rutland County Humane Society now has a countywide feral cat Trap, Neuter and Release program as well.
In 2008, Brown and her husband started to spend their winters in Wickenburg, Ariz. The town opened its first humane society the following year, and Brown approached them almost immediately about starting a feral cat program.
By 2010, Brown had spearheaded the Wickenburg Feral Cat Assistance Program and to date, 515 cats have been trapped spayed or neutered and released or adopted. Brown said there are so many more feral cats there because the more temperate climate allows them to breed year-round. Also, there are no frigid winters when some cats die of exposure.
All of this begs the question: As a self-described “crazy cat lady,” how many cats does Brown own?
“Six,” she said, explaining that four of those cats are formerly feral and were not able to socialize enough to be adopted.
“Sometimes they just can’t get socialized enough to be adopted, but they are too socialized to go back to the colony,” Brown explained. “And we’ve just got ‘sucker’ tattooed on our foreheads. I tell people that’s why I have bangs,” she added with a chuckle.
Brown said she continues to enjoy the work and plans to continue until she is physically unable to do so in old age.
“It’s been a really rewarding program,” she said. “I like helping the cats.”
That sentiment came full circle for Brown last year. She tells of the time she brought a feral female cat to one of the Rutland County spay/neuter clinics.
“She had had so many litters of kittens that when the vet opened her up, her uterus literally fell apart,” Brown said. “He said if I hadn’t brought her in that day, she would have been dead within a week.”
She paused.
“If I was ever on the fence about this work, that sealed it,” she said. “I AM the crazy cat lady.”
To make a donation to the Brandon Feral Cat Assistance Program, send a check or money order to the Rutland County Humane Society, 765 Stevens Road, Pittsford, VT 05763. Please note on the check that it is for the BFCAP. 

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