In a classic case of a good deed gone out of control, a Sawyer woman has been feeding about 40 cats, none of them hers.
In the summer of 2012, on her daily walks around Sawyer, Lori Newquist noticed a family of six kittens living in a culvert near a busy state highway. Recognizing the danger, she asked a neighbor if she could move a food bowl a little closer to his house every day and entice them away from traffic.
Irvin Humble was at Pratt Rehabilitation and Residence Center, and he said sure; his late wife Margaret had loved cats. Later, he gave permission for a shelter on his property, which is adjacent to Newquist's home.
The cats grew and thrived and had kittens of their own. Soon Newquist saw mother cats from all over the east side of town bringing their babies to the food pans. A feed bill of $250 per month was overwhelming.
A long-term solution — preventing more babies — was expensive. Newquist estimated the cost to have 40 cats spayed or neutered was around $5,000.
"I don't make that kind of money," she said. "Maybe if I win the lottery."
The Pratt Area Humane Society had funds available in a Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) to help residents who meet income qualifications, and also for trap, neuter, release programs in small communities.
Still, Newquist needed to raise money for a co-pay. For several years, she has put surplus vegetables from her garden out near the curb, with a box for donations. She decided to put all this year's proceeds towards controlling the cat population. The veggie stand is strictly on an honor system, but people have been generous. One person came to the Pratt County Recycling Center, where she works, with $10 for two ears of corn. Another left $10 for a couple of pieces of squash.
During the last week, Newquist took 20 cats to Dr. LuAnn Bergner for surgery, including an adult male she believes to be responsible for many of the litters. Tiger had been in a fight with an animal, so he was in rough shape.
"As soon as he gets well, he'll be fixed," she promised, and by Friday, he was healthy enough for surgery.
Newquist has found a farm home for some of the cats.
The goal of SNAP is to control the population and keep animals out of shelter, said veterinarian Dr. Pam Howell, a volunteer with the humane society. "Cats really don't do well in group housing. They're a solitary species and they tend to get sick because they are stressed."
Since 2010, more than 1,000 animals have been spayed or neutered with the assistance of the program, and intake at the PAHS shelter is down about 45 percent. Live release of cats is now around 90 percent, meaning they're not having to euthanize animals because of space limitations.
And while only half the colony in Sawyer's east side has been altered, it will have an impact, Howell said.
About three years ago, she helped the Humane Society spay or neuter 100 cats in Iuka. The city provided money for supplies and several volunteers helped.
"It made a huge impact on that community," she said. "Altered cats tend to stay home more and are less of a nuisance around town."
It's cheaper to have a cat altered than to pay someone to pick it up, house it for the required three days, which usually turns into five, and then euthanize it, Howell said.
The program needs to be managed in an on-going effort, however.
The Society estimated it would need about $30,000 to cover surgeries for pets of qualifying individuals. They received a grant this summer from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and from the South Central Community Foundation and have applied for another SCCF grant.
Newquist promised that any money put in the jar at her vegetable stand the rest of the season would be given to the Humane Society.
"We're only halfway done," she said.