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Farm, Feral and Spay takes on wild-cat explosions

Farm, Feral and Spay founder Tanya Borg cradles four kittens whose feral mother was trapped and neutered after the offspring were born. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

Tanya Borg worked at a veterinarian’s office for 20 years, and day after day, it was the same thing: an endless parade of stray cats and kittens to be injected with sedatives and killed.

One day seven years ago, it finally broke Borg’s heart for good, and she had to quit. She knew there had to be a better way.

“So I went online and did a lot of research, and I saw that there were a lot of groups and a lot of information out there about how to trap and neuter feral cats and deal with feral colonies more humanely – and, I’ll add, much more effectively,” Borg said in an interview last week. “From that point on, I knew I had to do something.”

Borg went on to create Farm, Feral and Stray, a nonprofit group that now includes 12 active volunteers and more than 75 donors in five northwestern Wisconsin counties – St. Croix, Burnett, Polk, Barron and Washburn. The St. Croix program is coordinated by Teri Woestman.

The group works with local veterinarians, farmers and city dwellers to identify feral colonies, then trap unneutered animals, get them fixed and return them to their home territory.

The idea is that eventually, the colonies will stop reproducing, spreading diseases to other animals, overrunning property and generally creating wild-cat havoc. Over the years, Borg has found that it really works.

Meanwhile, there are 13,000-14,000 feral cats in St. Croix County, she said. Hudson alone has many colonies, both out in the country and in town. One large, troublesome colony has taken root in an open space on Hanley Road west of the Carmichael Road intersection, she noted.

Four options compared

“There are four ways to deal with feral cats,” said Borg, who works from Centuria, north of Hudson. “One, you can ignore the problem, which, unfortunately, is what a lot of places are doing, but, obviously, that solves absolutely nothing.

“Two, you can trap and kill, which is also what a lot of places have been doing, but it doesn’t really address the problem either: There still are a whole bunch of unneutered animals left out there in the colony.

“They’re masters at survival too – and they just keep reproducing. So year after year, first you have one cat that has four kittens, then, the next year, each female kitten has four to six kittens of their own. And then it just goes on and on exponentially until it’s totally out of control.”

Another option is cat sanctuaries – an empty barn, for example, at a onetime farm that’s now a rural residence, where colony-imprinted feral cats can live for the rest of their lives. The problem: There aren’t enough suitable properties, and where they exist, they’re also soon overrun.

“So you get an overabundance of cats in one place, and any intact males that happen by will push the kittens out. And, where do those kittens go? Everywhere,” Borg said.

“Then they’re either killed by another animal or on the highway, or they find another colony. Maybe they start new colonies of their own. Either way, all of a sudden, all you end up with is another huge problem somewhere else.”

Trapping, neutering and returning feral cats to their home colonies is the best option, Borg insists. The colonies stay intact that way, making the animals easier to find and the problem easier to localize and contain. Neutered animals’ ears are marked during surgery, so if they’re trapped or spotted by residents, they can be safely left alone.

The trick is to keep trapping year after year, Borg noted. But that’s better than a shotgun approach that either doesn’t work or shifts the problem elsewhere.

The trap-neuter-return approach also takes money, volunteers and cooperation from local vets, municipalities and other organizations, Borg said.

New attitude growing?

Farm, Feral and Spay also does educational presentations for local government bodies, schools, Future Farmers of America chapters, 4-H groups and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops -- and for anyone else who requests them.

The idea is catching on fast, she adds, although she still encounters resistance from people who still adhere to the traditional approach. One area town board member, for example, recently commented on Borg’s efforts: “They know that cats can’t swim, don’t they?”

That doesn’t deter Borg, though. Neither does the typical approach at many humane societies, where an estimated 70 percent of strays and ferals are euthanized.

“It’s just, unfortunately, easier for some people to just stick them with a needle and throw them in the trash can,” she said.

“But people’s attitude toward cats is changing quickly in this country. Cats are now the most popular pet in America, so more and more people really care about them and really want to solve the problem in the best possible way.”

St. Croix coordinator Teri Woestman can be reached at (715) 441-4844, and Borg’s telephone number is (715) 501-8488. The group also has a website – temporarily under redesign construction – at

Borg also suggested the national group Alley Cat Allies, for further information.