For several years, Pat McCracken has worked tirelessly to rescue and assist stray cats in Jefferson County. Never an easy task, it is also an expensive one.
McCracken estimates that she has spent thousands of dollars in efforts to trap strays, vaccinate, spay or neuter and feed animals from Kabletown to Shepherdstown. After treating the animals and making sure they are socialized, she works to find them homes.
McCracken says that she has been doing this type of service for about three years and that now people know to call her when they spot a litter of kittens or find cats and kittens abandoned.
"I observe them, too," McCracken said, espeically around restaurants and other commercial businesses where the animals seek food.
"I check them out to see if they belong to anyone and if they don't, I work to trap them," she said. McCracken says she works with local veterinarians who offer discounts to vaccinate and spay or neuter the animals. Many times, once the cats have cleared hurdles with the vet, McCracken returns them to where she trapped them.
McCracken tries to find homes for the kittens she takes in as well as some of the older cats. Local farms have been willing to provide a home for many, she said.
Currently McCracken has three cats, two kittens and one adult, who are looking for homes. All three have been neutered and received treatments for fleas, worms, and have been vaccinated and litter trained.
Each cat that McCracken helps receives the de-flea treatment, de-worming and vaccinations. They are also spayed or neutered before going to live in their new home to help prevent future unwanted litters.
The cost for all of these services, often coming from her own pocket, are taking a toll, she said. She currently has placed donation jars around the county for those who wish to make financial contributions to help with the efforts.
"My heart just goes out to these little guys," she said. "I know I can't save the world, but what I see, I can help."
While she said she has come up against some opposition to what she has been doing, especially in various town limits where regulations indicate people are not to feed wild or feral cats or trap them, she questions the thought behind such convictions.
"These are not like wild animals like raccoons," she said. "They don't eat vegetables or berries. Should they just starve to death?" she asked with passion in her voice.
Not all cats that do not have homes are simply strays. Some cats have never had contact with humans and are wild, untamed and cannot be turned into pets - these are feral cats.
But, McCracken said, trapping these cats and having the females spayed will help eliminate additional litters in the future. She is able to trap, secure the treatments, provide "foster" housing through a recuperation period after surgery and then release the animals, sometimes back where they were found and sometimes at farms or other locations.
Those who have questions about how to secure a lower cost spay or neutering or who are aware of strays that may need help, are encouraged to contact McCracken at 304-724-5599 or via email at email@example.com. McCracken said she is also able to provide educational information on what to do with unwanted cats and kittens as well as help find a perfect cat or kitten to become part of the household.
"The shelters are all full," she said, talking about how large the problem has become. Her efforts are a way to help solve at least part of the problem rather than simply acknowledging that a problem exists. This year alone, McCracken says she has fostered 15 cats. She simply says she cannot continue to do it alone and seeks support from like minded individuals who want to either become "hands-on" or help through financial contributions.
"There are cats and kittens everywhere," she said. "People just dump them out along the roads or other places." By dumping cats and kittens without making sure they have access to food and water or have had adequate medical care and spay or neutering, the problem continues to rise. McCracken says she will continue to be a problem solver, one cat or kitten at a time.