Kaaren Pierce wasn’t quite sure why — maybe it was because she was a teacher, she thought — but when feral cats roamed her street in Marathon, her neighbors came to her.
“There were cats all over the place,” she said.
She was a dog person, but her neighbors saw kittens roaming free and worried. Pierce set up traps, and gathered cats from the streets. When she started as a volunteer at CNY SNAP, she did cleaning and some office work, but now she’s the organization’s main trapper.
They tend to gather in colonies, Pierce said, and she’s trapped 20, 40 at a time. She’s done this for 10 years now, and it’s become an addiction. For 16 years, efforts by Pierce and others have helped CNY SNAP keep the cat and dog populations stable in Central New York. Now, the organization spans 12 counties with frequent contributors from Auburn, parts of Delaware County and Syracuse. Since their move to a new location on Salisbury Street in Cortland, after a seven-month search, the organization has separated its adoption services and clinics.
“We’re settling in very well,” Director Janice Hinman said. “It’s all working out.”
In April 2018, it looked like the organization could fold. It shared the space with Economy Paving, and had a 1,000-square-foot office area. However, Economy Paving owner, Steve Compagni, who also owns the building, needed the full space to expand his business and gave Hinman until the end of January to move out.
CNY SNAP volunteer Zachary Spaulding gives a tour of the new facility.
Rhea Robsinson bought the building on Salisbury Street for $110,000 specifically to lease it to CNY SNAP. Once a vacant 2,400-square-foot space, CNY SNAP moved its operation tables and adoption services into the building in Janurary.
Hinman said after the move to the new location, CNY SNAP saw more volunteers and now has 29, which has allowed Hinman to add two extra clinics a month to the two a week it already provided.
When it first started, Hinman thought she was treating everyone. Now she treats even more. An American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals grant each year allows them to provide subsidized prices to people receiving financial assistance — $10 and $20 for all services for cats and dogs, respectively — and their numbers skyrocketed, Hinman said.
Now, a $2,000 grant from the Cortland Elks Lodge will allow the organization to extend its subsidized prices to more people.
“What I found doing this is people do care about the animals, they do care about the feral cats, they just need options on how to proceed,” Hinman said. “We provide the options.”
Supplies greet customers at the entrance and two doors lead the way into a room with cats roaming free and in cages. The operating room is on the other side of a chain-link, fence-like structure.
People bring cats or dogs to the facility seven days a week to be spayed, neutered and picked up as early as the night of the clinic. The group has spayed or neutered 40,000 animals in the history of the organization, Hinman said.
In addition to the volunteers, the organization calls upon a veterinarian and veterinary technician from Cornell University, who spay and neuter five cats each per clinic. Shelter Outreach Services in Tompkins County also helps with operations.
The organization relies mainly upon the generosity of others. Volunteers give up their time, donors provide the money they need and people bring as many as 75 cats in on their own.
Dan Mullens, a volunteer at CNY SNAP, admitted there isn’t much glamour involved — scraping kitty litter, cleaning the facility and feeding animals — but most volunteers get involved because they want to help.
“It’s just a good way to feel like you’re giving back to the community and joining folks in kind of doing good while doing good work,” Mullens said.
Hinman schedules the clinics and manages the finances. CNY SNAP works with Pet Smart for their adoption services and adopted 500 cats last year. You do a lot of work and you adopt a lot of animals, Pierce said.
Volunteers work in shifts seven days a week, cleaning the facility, caring for the animals and watching the door to greet new customers. They take in animals at all hours of the day, treat them at a clinic and vaccinate animals for rabies.
If cats have no owner, and they are friendly, Hinman said, they’ll be put up for adoption. Some people drive as much as two hours with a bevy of animals.
Recently, Pierce ran the numbers in her head — beyond count, really. She started trapping cats with one other person, and sometimes other volunteers help, but it’s mostly her. In 10 years, she’s trapped cats in litters and colonies of all sizes. The problem has eased on her street, and now she travels around the county to trap.
“Holy mackerel,” Pierce said to Hinman. “I’ve trapped a lot of cats.” Hinman laughed. “Yes you have,” she replied. The calls have gotten less frequent, Hinman said, and the number of animals on the street has gone down. But abandonments and individual strays have kept the organization busy, and when kitten season starts, the process starts all over again.
“I like to think we made a dent,” Pierce said.