INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of cats roam Indiana neighborhoods unowned, unvaccinated and able to reproduce dozens of kittens each year.
A group called Indy Neighborhood Cats is trying to help those animals and the families that often try to care for them.
Dawn Benefiel helped form the group a few years ago to tackle the growing number of unowned cats in Indianapolis neighborhoods, most of which are not spayed or neutered.
Right now, Indy Neighborhood Cats is the only field-based organization going out in the community doing "trap, neuter, return" operations.
"Trap, neuter, return is where we go out and find the cats in the neighborhoods and get them fixed and vaccinated and ear tipped," Benefiel said. "So, you'll notice the cats are tipped, and they indicate that they've been part of that program."
The group currently has about 14 volunteer trappers. along with a few contractors.
"We have countless volunteers that are out in the community spreading the word. So right now, we have about 30 volunteers that are pretty regular. And we can use more trap, neuter, return in the community cat program or something that everyone in the community can get involved in, especially in neighborhoods where they have resources and maybe just need a little guidance, and we can step in to help them with that."
This segment of the population produces 80% of the kittens born every year that overwhelms local shelters.
To date, Indy Neighborhood Cats has taken more than 1,600 cats through the program.
"In my current neighborhood, there are about 13 cats," said Kaitlin Stahl, one of a few volunteers working in the community. "Some of them are fixed, the rest I'm working on but if you think about it, if all those female cats had more kittens, I mean, just think about how the numbers would multiply, and then, there are more cats out on the street, more cats dying, having health issues. It's just not a good situation."
Indy Neighborhood Cats also builds and places hundreds of winter shelters for outdoor cats throughout the city and provides education and resources to the generous neighbors currently caring for the cats on their doorsteps.
Volunteer Shelley Abrams said they are not trying to eliminate cats — instead, making sure they are healthy, fed and not reproducing.
"They can be beneficial to an apartment complex. They can be beneficial to a community of homes because outside our community, cats take care of the vermin. They take care of other things that can be a nuisance to the homeowners or the apartment folks."
Indy Neighborhood Cats - Pets of the Week
The more cats they can fix and return to their outdoor homes, the more space our shelters and rescues have to help animals who really need them.
"If we weren't out there and if people out in the community weren't getting involved, we would just have litters and litters of kittens out there suffering and entering the shelters and overwhelming them," Benefiel said.
If you have a warehouse, business or barn that could use a good mouser or three, consider adopting a working cat.
More information on Indy Neighborhood Cats can be found at this link.