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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Q5: Guests at the big house

  • Crystal Swann Blackdeer, a full-time volunteer with the Leavenworth County Humane Society, said her organization doesn't have an abundance of resources, but it's always willing to help when and where it can.
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  • Crystal Swann Blackdeer, a full-time volunteer with the Leavenworth County Humane Society, said her organization doesn't have an abundance of resources, but it's always willing to help when and where it can.
    The Humane Society has recently backed up that claim by partnering with the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth to address a colony of feral cats.
    It's not always easy work, Blackdeer says in this Q5, but it's necessary in keeping numbers manageable.
    1. Crystal, why did Leavenworth County Humane Society decide to partner with USP to help the prison's feral cat colony?
    "We knew there were cats at the prison and people who cared about them. It was only natural to make the offer to work with the USP, and then to say 'yes' when the warden contacted us about a potential partnership.
    “It wasn't a question of doing it or not doing it — just a question of how to do the best we could, together, for the community and the cats."
     
    2. You have said the basis of the partnership is communication and cooperation. How do you work together to ensure the comfort and safety of these felines?
    "The staff and inmates at the prison do the lion's share of the work. The inmates see the cats on a daily basis and know when something is amiss.
    “The staff takes the cats who need services to clinics, pick them up and bring them back.
    “Much of that is done off the clock because they just want the cats to have the best life they can have.
    "LCHS helps with advice, sometimes scheduling, and always coordinating payment.  We stay in touch by email, and go visit whenever we're invited.
    “The virtual door is always open. We couldn't do it without the support of local veterinarians who have agreed to provide services for the USP cats and then invoice LCHS.  And, of course, the low-cost spay/neuter programs in the area.
    “We work a lot with Great Plains SPCA in Merriam, with Humane Society of Greater KC in KCK, and sometimes with HOPE Inc. in Leavenworth.
    “The clinics provide the same great level of service. It's just a question of who can get them done when the cats can get there."
    3. Why have prisons always had an abundance of cats and why is it important that colony numbers be controlled?
    "Prisons, like college campuses, farms, military installations, warehouses, and lots of other environments have resources that feral cats need — shelter, food, water. That and a couple of cats is all it takes to get a cat colony going.
    Page 2 of 3 - "Unless the cats are sterilized, they will breed and breed, with each successive generation becoming less healthy. Sterilizing and vaccinating these outdoor cats means they are healthier, and they aren't breeding."
     
    4. Since many people believe catching and relocating stray cats is the most humane thing to do, why is it important they learn the benefits of trap/neuter/return programs? 
    "Feral cats have adapted to living in a certain environment, whether that's in town, on a farm, at a prison, wherever.
    “They know where the threats are. They know where to hide, where the shelter is, where to get food and water.
    "If you pick up a feral cat and move it, they don't know where the buffet is, where the Motel 6 is, where the predators are likely to come from.
    “It's like plucking someone out of Leavenworth County and dropping them into Gaza.
    “Relocating feral cats is a last resort. It takes weeks to acclimate them to a new location.
    “And, even if you successfully relocate this clowder or colony, as long as there are resources, another group of cats will assemble at the vacated location.
    “The newcomers will be cats of unknown health / vaccination status, who are likely going to breed. And, they can breed sooner than you think — four months.
    “We can get cats sterilized as young as 9 weeks, 2 pounds."
     
    5. How does LCHS provide assistance for Leavenworth County residents who care for feral cats to ensure their colony is healthy and not breeding? Who can readers contact if they need help?
    "We have traps to loan and people who can advise caregivers on how to trap/neuter/return.
    “We can help schedule services at a variety of low-cost spay/neuter clinics.
    “We can provide financial assistance for TNR. We don't have an army of people to come out and handle the cats for property owners, but we help as best we can, always."
     
    There's a population at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth that's less well known — feral cats. However, the prison grounds have shelter, food and water, so it's no surprise strays eventually find their way to USP.
    Treavor Kroger, USP executive assistant/camp administrator, said the numbers at USP have to be controlled as best as they can be, but the cats' presence isn't totally unwelcome.
    They provide a nice distraction for some inmates, offering a sense of normalcy and emotional bond in a place where that's in short supply.
    Kroger tells the Leavenworth Times more in this Q5, including why USP is partnering with the Leavenworth County Humane Society to monitor feline health.
    Page 3 of 3 - 1. Treavor, how long has the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth been partnering with Leavenworth County Humane Society to ensure feral cats on prison grounds are looked after, and why did prison officials decide this effort would benefit the community?
    "Although the cats have been continuously cared for, USP Leavenworth began its partnership with the Leavenworth County Humane Society approximately one year ago.
    "Working with the Leavenworth County Humane Society was a way to ensure the feral cat population at USP Leavenworth was healthy and their numbers were maintained at a healthy level."
    2. What do USP and LCHS do specifically to ensure the cats are taken care of? What happens if a surprise litter arrives?
    "USP Leavenworth staff or inmates identify cats that may be sick or possibly injured, and these cats are caught and brought to the Leavenworth County Humane Society to be examined and receive care.
    "If a surprise litter of kittens are discovered, they are usually adopted by Leavenworth staff, once they are old enough to be separated from their mother."
    3. Do USP staff and inmates enjoy the presence of the cats and how does caring for the felines help provide a positive distraction, while also promoting healthy emotional bonds, for the inmates?
    "The staff and inmates alike enjoy having and seeing the cats around the institution. Some of these cats have been a part of Leavenworth for many years.
    "These are feral cats and for the most part, would prefer to be left alone. 
    “However, their presence provides a distraction and a sense of normalcy for most inmates."
    4. What are the other benefits for the prison of helping sustain a healthy, stable cat colony and how much do the cats provide a non-toxic solution to pest control?
    "The obvious benefit to maintaining a healthy feral cat population is their ability to provide pest control.
    “This is an added benefit to their presence."
    5. With so many "caregivers" on site at the prison, are most of the cats reluctant to move on? Are members of staff ever tempted to relocate members of the cat colony to their own homes?
    "Feral cat populations will typically not move out of an area as long as there is shelter, food and water present. These cats are not pets and would not ever do well in a home environment.
    "Their overall health, well being and population is what brought USP Leavenworth and the Leavenworth County Humane Society together."

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