Volunteers Keep Feral Cats Warm and Safe

 |  Feb 8th 2011  |   10 Contributions


Some members of a Compassion Club colony enjoy a sunny day.

Winters in the northern United States are usually tough for homeless cats. This year's record-breaking snowfall and bone-chilling temperatures have been especially dangerous.

But some feral felines near Lake Saltonstall, Connecticut, are looking strong and well-fed, thanks to a group of caretakers who have gone the extra mile -- or even the extra 20 miles -- to help these cats.

Members of the Branford Compassion Club, a volunteer-based rescue organization, have built a village of small huts stuffed with hay for warmth and covered with tarps to keep the residents protected from the elements. Boards have been strategically placed around the area to protect the cats from the arctic winds.

On the morning that reporter Sally Bahner visited the colony, food had been placed out, paths had been shoveled to the hut entrances, and the cats themselves had made paths around the colony.

Charlene Vessichio and some friends have been taking care of the site for about a year. They gathered hay and wooden skids, and picked up plywood from the side of the road, to construct the village. The caretakers have the blessing of the property manager of the nearby office complex.

Im like the Mother Hen, Vessichio says. She maintains a list of feeders, their schedules and their phone numbers. I take things to another level, but not everyone does that.

She often makes two 40-minute round trips a day from her home in Guilford to take care of the cats, even this week in the ice and snow.

Vessichio is one of several Compassion Club members who maintain the 12 to 14 feral cat colonies in town. The Compassion Club and various local organizations, such as Forgotten Felines in Westbrook and the Greater New Haven Cat Project, work with the H.O.P.E. Spay and Neuter Clinic in Waterbury to spay or neuter the cats. The Compassion Club releases the cats that cannot be socialized, and they work with the kittens to get them used to humans and see that they are adopted into loving homes.

There are 20 to 25 cats in the colony, Vessichio says. Of those, 17 or 18 have been trapped and spayed or neutered. She plans to have the remaining ones fixed before spring. Recently she spent a lot of time administering antibiotics and caring for a couple of cats that were sick.

A group of feral cat shelters built by Compassion Club volunteers

Vessichio has named all the cats and is working hard to socialize them. She hopes that process will be completed, and that many can be adopted out once the Compassion Clubs facility in North Branford is completed.

Eunice Lasala, one of the founders of the Branford Compassion Club, which has been caring for, socializing and adopting feral cats since 1997, is worried about the feral cats in the colonies she helps maintain through the Compassion Club.

Lasala was especially concerned about a colony where a 12-foot high snow bank buried a colony housing three 4-month-old kittens. A lot of cats were trapped in the area a little while ago, until the caretakers were able to clear away the massive amounts of snow.

Vessichio also takes care of cats in a colony where she had to dig out a kitten that was trapped inside a hut by the snow.

It was a little long-haired gray kitten, she says. So sweet

The Branford Compassion Club will officially open its facility on Sunday, Feb. 27. They held a Bare Bones Bash last May, shortly after the building was acquired, and have been working to finish off the interior since then.

More winter weather is on the way, and the Compassion Club's caretakers will once again have a lot of shoveling and rescuing to do. But on the morning Bahner visited, two cats -- who might some day wind up at the Compassion Club's new shelter -- were playing games in the sunny, snowy outdoors.

[Source: Branford Eagle]

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