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Catch and Release

On a recent rainy morning, Medford resident Dorie Maier pulls a rectangular trap, a dirty towel and a can of wet cat food from her car.

"I use the same dirty towel so the other cats can smell it," Maier explains. "I'll spend the majority of the day releasing cats until I get one that hasn't been done."

Maier is trapping feral cats in a south Medford neighborhood — far from glamorous work. Her goal: to catch each of a three-dozen-member feral cat colony and ensure they've all been spayed or neutered. If they haven't, she arranges with local veterinary clinics to have the procedures done.

An Eagle Point High School graduate who spent recent years working with a feral trap-and-release program in Coos Bay, Maier hopes to share her skills with local agencies, identifying feral colonies around the valley and eventually opening a spay-and-neuter clinic devoted entirely to feral cats.

Some days she traps a dozen cats in the area between Stewart Avenue and South Stage Road. After months of work, the majority of those she catches are pets or members of the colony that already have been altered, indicated by an "ear tag," or clipping of the narrow point on the cat's right ear.

Maier began her efforts last year when a family friend voiced frustrations with an increasing number of cats arriving on his property after a neighbor become "caregiver" for the colony, providing food and shelter.

Unaltered, the cats are prone to fighting, "marking" territory and uncontrolled breeding. If altered, Maier says, colonies can stay in place, provide rodent control and maintain their territory, preventing new cats from moving in.

Maier is not alone in her efforts to tackle the number of unwanted animals in Jackson County. A slew of recent media reports have shed light on issues related to unwanted felines.

In mid-December, a Medford resident trapping strays inadvertently caught a pet cat that, despite being micro-chipped for identification, was upset from being trapped and was mistaken as feral and euthanized.

During the Christmas holiday, a stray cat regularly fed by an Eagle Point couple was found with extensive burns to his face, tail and ears. Weeks later, a dozen kittens, born in a feral cat colony in Phoenix but being socialized by residents there, were found dead, allegedly poisoned.

On Monday, advocates from animal welfare agencies around the valley met with county animal control authorities to discuss the recent events.

Barbara Talbert, president of the board of directors for Friends of the Animal Shelter, said the recent instances were a call to action for improved policies — already being implemented at the county shelter — and important corroboration between animal welfare agencies.

"We're all very much committed to finding ways to reduce the number of animals coming to our shelter and to reduce rate of euthanasia," she said, noting that FOTAS provides volunteer support as well as funding for programs such as Spay and Neuter Your Pet. "Nobody wants to euthanize animals and there certainly is willingness on the part of the group to begin to work in a coordinated fashion."

Sally Mackler, director for SNYP, which she helped create in 1997 after helping co-found the nation's first large-scale agency of its sort in San Diego in the early '90s, agrees that a regional approach is key. For its part, SNYP spayed or neutered some 2,600 animals last year. More than 2,000 of those were cats and 10 percent of those were feral.

"It's a huge, huge problem and it's been here forever," she said. "When you're looking at resources and donations, animals, especially in this economy, are at the bottom of the pecking order."

In her experience, Mackler says, she realizes roaming cats cannot be prevented. The focus of fixing both pets and strays, including ferals, is to reduce unwanted litters — all of which begin with a single abandoned pet. Education will reduce the likelihood residents will try to take matters into their own hands by trapping animals and dumping them at area shelters, or worse.

Catching a half-dozen cats on Sunday, most of which turned up with the telltale "ear tag," Maier is at least optimistic that only a handful of the colony's members have not been altered. She hopes to contact caregivers of colonies in Phoenix and Talent in coming weeks, and to join discussions among members of the new coalition.

"I agree that it needs to be a partnership, with all of us working together towards a same common goal. No one around her does feral cats exclusively so I hope I can fill in where there's a need," Maier says.

"I want everyone to be on the same page and know what each other is doing so no one is pulling at anyone else's resources. We all should be here to lift each other up, not burden each other."

Her bottom line? "I just love cats and I don't want to see them have to die because people are irresponsible."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Dorie Maier of Medford releases a feral cat near its colony on Sunday in south Medford after discovering the cat already had been spayed.