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Feral cats meet their waterloo - in a good way

A Cleveland business district sees the benefits of TNR

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2013

Debbie Gulyas, founder of the Waterloo Area Cat Project, feeds and loves up a kitty in the Waterloo Road district of Cleveland, where she has focused her TNR efforts.

When Debbie Gulyas and her husband, Pete, expanded their vintage clothing and records business (Blue Arrow Records) into a new building in the burgeoning arts and retail district on Waterloo Road in Cleveland, Ohio, they discovered about a dozen cats—some sick kittens and some unsterilized adults—living behind the store.

After the mother cat and one of the kittens were found dead, Gulyas snatched up the two surviving kittens and took them to the veterinarian. Her sister-in-law had told her about TNR and urged her to get the cats neutered, but while she wanted to keep feeding them, she was on the fence about actively pursuing TNR. It just seemed so overwhelming. “You have to trap them and then drive them at 8 o’clock in the morning,” Gulyas says. “It’s like a 20-minute ride in rush hour. It just seemed like, oh my God, it’s gonna be such a commitment and time-consuming thing to do.”

Gulyas started searching the Internet and found The Humane Society of the United States’ website. She ordered its book, Implementing a Community Trap-Neuter-Return Program, which became her bible. She decided to nurse the kittens back to health and took them home. One kitten thrived, but the other grew weaker and weaker, despite Gulyas’ efforts, and had to be euthanized.

It was then that Gulyas decided to TNR the rest of the cats. Besides caring about the cats, she felt that a TNR program would be a very important part of reviving the once-thriving Waterloo Road district, which had gone downhill since the ’80s.

“There are other Cleveland neighborhoods that have had million-dollar makeovers, but then there are still cats running all over the place looking for food and shelter,” says Gulyas. “It’s not only upsetting to see while you’re trying to be out having a good time, but it also makes a community look like they don’t care.”

She borrowed a trap and made surgery appointments for the cats at the Animal Protective League in Cleveland, but she was afraid to do everything herself and ended up scrapping her plans. But one evening, Gulyas’s husband was talking about the cats, and a customer overheard and offered to help. The man had been doing TNR for several years, and his help gave Gulyas the confidence she needed to TNR the cats and form her own organization, the Waterloo Alley Cat Project (WACP).

Since Gulyas began trapping in November 2009, WACP has grown to eight volunteers and TNR’d 200 cats in their target area of Waterloo Road and the adjacent residential neighborhood. By the summer of 2012, the group was seeing no kittens born in the target area.

In the beginning, Gulyas paid out of pocket to TNR the cats. WACP now applies for grants and accepts donations through a nonprofit organization, Northeast Shores Development Corp., but getting money remains a challenge, as is finding homes for adoptable cats. “We’ve all kept a few kittens and cats,” says Gulyas, but the search for an adoption organization to partner with continues.

The businesses and most of the neighbors are on board with TNR. Melanie Hersh, owner of a nearby record and CD store called Music Saves, has put out a donation jar in her shop and has raised more than $700 for WACP. She says the jar gives her a chance to talk to people about the project. “Neighbors have commented that they’ve seen certain cats around, and they've said it with tones of affection. They know the cats are being taken care of, and aren't multiplying, and seem to like seeing them in the neighborhood.”

Gulyas will work with people outside WACP’s target area when someone wants to care for the cats they have on-site, but doesn’t want 200 of them. She’ll also provide information about deterrents to people who don’t want cats in their yards.

When Gulyas started caring for her colony, she thought there would be a beginning and an end, “but my ferals are so healthy,” she says, “they are probably going to live 20 years!” The Waterloo Road business district’s multimillion-dollar makeover begins in May, and thanks to WACP, there will be lots fewer cats there.

About the Author

Nancy Peterson is the former Community Cats Program Manager for the Humane Society of the United States.