It all started when kittens were mistaken for puppies. And nine years later, countless kittens and cats have been rescued, either physically or to prevent litters from being born.
Kathy Stone and her husband Bryan drove into Ripley and looked over a local restaurant parking lot and saw what they thought were a bunch of puppies.
“I told Bryan to stop and see what was going on,” she recalls. “It turned out that there were 34 kittens alone. From that moment on, our life has changed. “
The couple took care of these cats and Operation Fancy Free (OFF), the trap-neutering release program in Jackson County, was born.
“We did it by investing our own money,” said Kathy. “But we were terribly green back then. We put the cart in front of the horse. Catch a bunch of cats, keep them in our outbuilding, then try to find a vet. We needed this vet first. “
When they started, the only vet they could find willing to take them and their cats in was in Barboursville.
“Those were tough times,” remembers Kathy. “We had to get her there by 7:30 AM on Vet Day, and then Bryan would be back at 4:00 PM to pick her up. It went on for a while. “
Then things changed for the better.
“We asked our local vets if anyone would be willing to work with us,” said Kathy. “We have Dr. Tammy Barickman and Ripley Paws found. “
Dr. Barickman had tried to solve the community cats problem but was unable to observe the traps regularly. Since she was familiar with the trap castration clearance process, she understood the vision and mission of the Stones.
“I can’t tell you how much we like Dr. Barickman and Paws appreciate it, ”said Kathy. “She does the surgeries in person and her cuts are usually about 1/4 inch long to reduce the risk of infection. Community cats are not looked after in the same way as domestic cats. If it is not available, Dr. Welling one. “
With the work of Bryan, Kathy and a small team of volunteers, Ripley Paws takes care of between 90 and 120 cats a month.
“Not all cats we make are community cats; We also receive inquiries from domestic cats that need to be repaired, ”said Kathy. “We have a system in place, but our community cats come first. At the moment we have around 90 on a waiting list. “
The only thing that people about the Trap Neuter Release Program (TNR) often don’t understand is that OFF cannot come to private property to resolve the situation unless the owner has invited or allowed it.
“We know there are some serious problems in parts of the county, especially Ravenswood,” said Kathy. “And of course we want to take care of them, but it’s a process that we handle carefully.”
Although the name of the organization is Operation Fancy Free, neutering, neutering, feeding, and other problems for many community cats are not free.
“We have been fortunate to have received grants from various organizations,” said Kathy. “And we have wonderful donors and sponsors. On site, Tractor Supply has a keg that people put a lot of donated food in, and Walmart gives us bags of food that has been damaged but is still safe for our cats. Our vet also gives us discounts. We are also part of the Kroger Community Cares and Amazon Smile. If people choose us as their charity, these two will give us some of the sales. “
The nonprofit is currently participating in the #communitycatspodcast grant opportunity, which is equal to $ 1,000 in fundraising. Over the past several years, New York City’s Two Mauds organization has received generous grants. Recently, OFF received a $ 2,500 scholarship from the very competitive PetCo Love Foundation.
“This fellowship is such an easy option,” said Kathy. “We’re asking for a $ 9 donation as part of our ‘Cat O’Nine-Palooza 2021’. It’s our nine-year anniversary and we want to keep doing what we’re doing. “
The TNR process is not easy. It’s not just a call to the Stones to take care of a colony. There are steps that must be taken to ensure that the animals are appropriately caught and then brought to the vet.
“These cats need preparation,” said Kathy. “There has to be a feeding schedule drawn up by the person who wants to do the job. Dinner must be at 4pm and the cats are expected to be fed. We need a head count so we know how many traps to bring with us. It’s all a matter of timing and the partnership between us, the person who contacts us and the vet. “
The “return” part of TNR is often misunderstood.
“These community cats want to return home whenever they can,” said Kathy. “It is important that they can no longer reproduce. Many of them are neither adopted nor promoted. It’s not the life they want or accept. But they can no longer have kittens and that is important. “
The Stones have a small army of volunteers, but they mostly rely on two women, Julie Price and Kat Zero.
In addition to being a volunteer in trapping, Price runs the WV Pet Project on YouTube, which follows OFF’s trap events and shows a video showing how to live safely and properly with traps. The mission of the WV Pet Project is to bring awareness and attention to the animals in West Virginia that are abandoned, unwanted, abused and often forgotten, with an emphasis on feral cats.
Zero acts as the secretary and treasurer of the nonprofit and maintains the group’s Facebook page.
“What people don’t understand is that trapping is a silent event,” said Kathy. “It’s not a party where you can chat a lot. Sometimes it takes six to eight hours to get the cats. It is certainly not for everyone, but we are blessed with our volunteers. “
The care and adoption of cats is also one of the goals of Operation Fancy Free. While many of the cats need to be returned to their colony location, some are ready for a home or stable.
“One of our youngest was Pretty Princess,” said Kathy with a smile. “Our adopted child saw her on Facebook. We’ve been trapped for her before, and she always got it right, so we knew she could handle the suspicious, spirited Pretty Princess. I bounced off the wall when she contacted us. Adopting a community cat requires a lot of patience. But they are such a blessing when they trust you. “
In cold weather, Stone said, it’s harder to set a trap. OFF encourages continued catching, but if the temperature is 40 degrees or below the animals must be protected in a barn or building.
The ultimate message that the Stones and Operation Fancy Free want to emphasize is the neutering, or neutering, of cats.
“Cats 4 months and older can have kittens,” she said. “If you have a cat, have it neutered or neutered after 3 months. We try community cats for 2 months as long as they weigh at least two pounds. “
Operation Fancy Free has spayed or neutered over 4,800 cats in its nine years and the work is still ongoing.
“Research says that a full-fledged TNR should have achieved full success in eight years,” she said. “We are in our ninth year and the work is not done yet. But we’ll stick with it as long as possible. If you need any help, please contact us. “
To contact the group call 304-531-8710 or email [email protected] Follow the group on Facebook or visit www.operationfancyfree.weebly.com.