Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Off the Street, into Homes: Shelter Gives Cats a Chance; One Woman Helps Feral Felines Get Healthy and Find Families

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Off the Street, into Homes: Shelter Gives Cats a Chance; One Woman Helps Feral Felines Get Healthy and Find Families

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

ST. MARYS, Ga. - Terra Lucent believes feral cats deserve better than to be captured and euthanized.

She is so committed to her belief that the St. Marys woman estimates she has paid a veterinarian to spay or neuter at least 180 feral cats during the past year.

She also convinced her husband, Joseph Lucent, to abandon his workshop and let her convert the building behind their home into a shelter for feral cats and their offspring.

After they are captured by local animal control officials, adult cats are taken to Lucent's home, where a veterinarian who makes a weekly visit sterilizes the animals. Adult cats are also given a complete physical examination that includes all the required immunizations before Lucent says they are released in the area where they were captured.

A notch is taken from an ear on each released cat that indicates to animal control officials the feral feline has been sterilized and checked for diseases.

The kittens, many of them malnourished and infested with fleas, ticks and other parasites, are nursed to health, spayed or neutered, and held on Lucent's property until they are adopted. She said she currently has about 80 cats waiting for homes.

"None of the cats brought to me are in good shape," she said. "They're desperate cases."

A white kitten she helped nurse to health last year was covered with so many fleas she couldn't tell the color of the fur when it was brought to her.

But by the time they are ready for adoption, the cats are healthy, acclimated to humans and make great pets, Lucent said.

Mary Stagl and her 9-year-old daughter, Katrina, began volunteering after they visited Lucent's home to adopt a cat last summer.

While they were trying to choose a cat, an animal control officer dropped off five starving kittens.

Stagl said she and her daughter spent much of the night trying to help Lucent nurse the kittens back to health, but they all died within 18 hours.

"We've been friends and caring for cats ever since," Stagl said.

Now, Stagl and her daughter volunteer three days a week to help clean litter boxes, fill food and water bowls and launder pads lining each cage.

Besides helping with the dirty chores, Katrina has an additional - and perhaps the most important - duty.

"I get to play with the cats and teach them soft paw," she said, referring to teaching cats not to bare their claws while playing.

Katrina, who said she plans to be a veterinarian, said she is sad when a cat dies, but she realizes not every cat brought to Lucent's shelter can be saved.

Lucent said playtime is important to teaching cats the social skills they need to interact with humans.

"I try to make it a homelike atmosphere," Lucent said of the way cats are treated until they are released or adopted. …

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