April 13, 2011

A one-year report on the resurrected Ocracats program


The Ocracats project was founded in the early ‘90s by a small group of concerned Ocracoke volunteers who trapped feral cats for transport to the local vet for spaying and neutering or emergency medical care.

Ocracats, which was granted non-profit status in 2002, also imported vets from the Raleigh area who were interested in studying the feral cat population on Ocracoke and assisted in feral cat neuter/spay clinics that were free with all supplies and services donated. 

The trap-neuter-return (TNR) model adopted by Ocracats, Inc. is the only method proven to be effective for controlling feral cat population growth. If at least 70 percent of the fertile adults are neutered, colony size is immediately stabilized. Within a few years, the Ocracoke feral cat breeding population was greatly reduced and the colonies’ growth stabilized.

 In recent years, however, the feral cat population has again exploded.

The local vet retired and moved away. Two of the most active volunteers also moved, and cat traps have disappeared. The rest of the volunteers were completely overwhelmed. 

Sensing the growing tension on the island about the feral cats, five local residents formed a new Ocracats, Inc. board of directors in April of last year and aggressively pursued funding for TNR clinics, bulk cat food, and medical supplies.  They increased volunteer participation, re-established the community donation jar program, and sought partnerships with other Outer Banks feral cat organizations. Discounted cat food rates were negotiated with local grocery stores. 

Last May, Ocracats hosted a TNR clinic sponsored by Lannon’s Animal Hospital in Elizabeth City.  Dr. Darlene Lannon and her associates operated on 33 cats in space provided by the Ocracoke Fire Department.  Traps were borrowed from Hyde County and Friends of Felines-Hatteras.  Hatteras Cat provided Harbor Chowder cat food to entice the cats to the traps. Meals and lodging for the vet and her crew were donated by local businesses. 

At the June Ocrafolk Festival, Ocracats shared a booth with the Girl Scouts, who sponsored a very successful Adopt-A-Cat program.  Beautiful Ocracat calendars donated by North Carolina photographer Teressa Williams and artist Doug Hoover were sold, as were tote bags and shirts donated by Ocracoke T-Shirt Printers.

Also in June, Ocracats received a generous grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation that provided funds for the purchase of 20 Have-A-Heart traps and for a four-day TNR clinic scheduled by the North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine and Hyde County Animal Control. 

Last July, 97 cats received surgery in the school’s 56-foot mobile medical unit run by Dr. Kelli Ferris and her staff. Parking, staging space, and utilities were donated by the Ocracoke Fire Department. The North Carolina Ferry Division provided free ferry access round trip for the huge rig, and meals were supplied by local businesses and residents. The “Mary Francis” cottage was generously donated to the team during prime summer rental season. Scores of volunteers braved the heat to assist in the trapping and care of the cats. 

During the summer, Ocracats volunteers also created a website, www.Ocracats.org, and a Facebook page, and negotiated greatly reduced spay and neuter fees with Outer Banks vets through the use of vouchers guaranteed by Ocracats.

With help from the Community Foundation grant and through the donations of visitors and residents, feral cats can now be taken to vets off island between the large TNR clinics.  Many local people and cottage owners have begun trapping and transporting cats to the mainland at their own expense.

The outpouring of support from the community has been fantastic. One resident even hosted a “gold party” where the proceeds from the sale of scrap gold were given to Ocracats.  Another cottage owner purchases bulk cat food and delivers it monthly to the island. A very handy local “carpenter” has designed a weatherproof feeding station made from scrap wood and has offered to produce them without charge. Several have volunteered to serve as foster parents for adoptable kittens or for cats that need to be relocated. 

Ocracoke Island Realty (OIR) agreed to advertise available kittens to its rental customers, which resulted in many successful placements. OIR donated a portion of rental bookings to Ocracats during National Feral Cat Month.  Dr. Lannon and staff returned for another daylong clinic in January at the Fire Hall. Thirty-four cats were treated and released.  Accommodations and most meals were again donated by local residents.

In May, on a date to be announced, Ferris will be bringing her team and mobile unit back to Ocracoke for another NC State Veterinary School event.  It is anticipated that close to 100 more cats will be neutered/spayed during this clinic.  More than 300 cats will have been neutered as a result of the clinics and vet visits since Ocracats was resurrected a year ago. In the works are more grant applications, another Ocracat logo, new calendars, and more participation in clinics by volunteer vets.

Ocracats thanks everyone who has helped make this such a successful program.

The group needs more volunteers and donations to pay for the May clinic. If you can help, please send a check to Ocracats, PO Box 993, Ocracoke, NC 27960 or drop a donation in one of the jars scattered among the island shops.

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