For longer than anyone can remember, the Winona Area Humane Society has been feeding and sheltering a group of more two dozen feral cats.
That was until about three or four months ago, when they stopped.
There are no more shelters, no more food, but there are plenty of rumors making their way around town. Rumors like the Humane Society is letting the cats starve and freeze through the winter.
However, according to Humane Society board member Rich McCluer, nothing could be further from the truth.
“We put a tremendous effort into the situation,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave an animal out in the cold without food.”
McCluer said what started as an idea with good intentions later became a nuisance to the neighborhood.
After years of feeding the cats, the Humane Society’s efforts began to attract a different kind of tenant, ones far less cuddly than the feline variety.
Skunks, racoons and opossums had started showing up looking for an easy meal and a place to shelter from the cold. At one point, McCluer saw five skunks making their way into the area.
“If we got one more nuisance complaint, we could be shut down,” facilities director Susie Marshall said.
Marshall said the skunks were getting a little too cozy with the situation.
“We’d go in the igloo to check on the them and there would be a skunk curled up in there with a bunch of cats,” she said.
McCluer added it was turning into “a wild kingdom.”
Our first solution was to change the feeding policy, McCluer said. Rather than feed the cats and then leave the food there for hungry critters, they’d take the food away once the cats had had their fill.
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Unfortunately, the new feeding policy didn’t go as hoped when a rogue volunteer took it upon themselves to leave food out after dinnertime and would even show up at the Humane Society before dawn to “cart out” food for the animals, McCluer said.
After continued issues, the volunteer was cited for trespassing.
With rodents an ongoing issue, the society changed their strategy.
“We’ve been trapping and transporting the cats,” McCluer said.
The society found a farm — the Lisa Jud Hobby Farm in Dakota — that was willing to take them. So far 22 cats have been trapped, vaccinated and placed at their new home. There are a few that have yet to be caught, but the society is continuing to work on it.
Marshall said she’s thankful the cats are at a new location. The cats that before couldn’t be handled are now getting more attention and are being pet.
“I visit the farm,” Marshall said. “This lady is sitting on the ground petting these cats.”
McCluer said the neighborhood has responded well to the change in policy.
“One of the neighbors came and saw the shelter and was just ecstatic,” she said.
Marshall added that in the end it’s a good result for both parties.
“It’s a happy thing,” she said. “I think everyone meant well; I just think it got out of hand.”
The Humane Society found a farm willing to take them. So far 22 cats have been trapped, vaccinated and placed at their new home.