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Feral felines get tended to like fat cats

Mary Kaye Larsen-Olloway North Chicago founder FCRescue Inc. feeds colony feral cats storage lot for vehicles North chicago where about

Mary Kaye Larsen-Olloway of North Chicago, founder of Fat Cat Rescue, Inc., feeds a colony of feral cats at a storage lot for vehicles in North chicago where about 15 cats currently live. She also traps feral cats which have not been spayed or neutered yet and rescues abandoned house cats and offers them for adoption. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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How to help

Fat Cat Rescue Inc. will hold a fundraiser at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Jester’s Bar, 1500 N. Lewis Ave., Waukegan. “Fat Tuesday on Saturday” will include a performance by the rock band Seven Pound Fury, a 50-50 raffle and silent auction. All proceeds go to feed, house and neuter stray cats in Lake County. Donation is $5 at the door. For more information, call Mary Kaye Larsen-Olloway at (708) 305-5049.

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Updated: April 9, 2013 2:22AM

NORTH CHICAGO — Winter can wring the ninth life out of a stray cat like it nearly did poor Georgie, who was discovered years ago, emaciated, rigid with cold, and nearly frozen to the side of a house.

Georgie, who survived with intensive veterinary care, and the dowager Goldie, another feral feline whose howling helped save him, are the inspirations behind Fat Cat Rescue Inc., a North Chicago-based group of volunteers who say they have made the cold, hard world a more habitable place for an estimated 1,500 cats in Lake County.

Mary Kaye Larsen-Olloway, president of the group, got into the cat-saving business after surviving two car crashes and a broken neck.

“I figured I must have been put here for a reason,” said Larsen-Olloway, a lifelong North Chicagoan whose mother, Doris “Toots” Larsen and father Ron Larsen, owner of Larsen Trucking on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in North Chicago, and other relatives and caretakers say they need more help to care for homeless cats.

Every day at about 10 a.m., Larsen-Olloway, 54, embarks on a major feeding ritual that begins at home with her three Himalayans: Kiki, Buddy Love and Smoochie Good Night, and an arthritic tabby, Mr. Whiskers − four well-tended majesties who sit ensconced on their owner’s big bed indifferently eyeing visitors.

Larsen-Olloway is soon out the door to feed and water members of several feral cat colonies beginning in her own yard, where the snow is well-trailed with small paw prints and where her call, six short whistles followed by one long one, brings them trotting. She hops into her black Chevy pickup to visit other nearby Fat Cat colonies.

As the cats emerge from small well-insulated wooden motels buttressed by bails of straw and placed against trees, under rusting trailers, and next to abandoned sheds, Larsen-Olloway offers a litany of names and hard luck stories. There’s Jazz, whose tail was bit-off in a run-in with a raccoon; Rags, “chipped” by an owner from Great Lakes Navy housing “who must have got shipped out”; and Frederico, who only understands Spanish.

Fat Cat cats are a hardy lot. They have survived hangings, burnings and use as bait for pit bull fights. The domestic cats among them have endured utter abandonment. So it’s ironic that Fat Cat and the burgeoning cat rescue movement that includes stand-up comic Marc Maron, a self-professed feral cat “wrangler,” is really aimed at humanely thinning the species’ numbers.

Fat Cat traps and transports felines to participating animal hospitals to be neutered, vaccinated and notched on the left ear before returning them to colonies, caretakers and foster homes.

Not everyone agrees that trap, neuter and return model is good for the environment which, despite how prideful and predatory cats may behave, must be shared by other living things.

Naturalist Joel Greenberg, who consults on bird counts for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, points to a recent study by Smithsonian biologists that alleges that feral and domestic cats that roam kill a median 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals each year.

“In my view, we would be better off if ‘Felis catus’ would not be roaming around feral and we shouldn’t allow cats to wander outside,” Greenberg said. “Even if they’re declawed, they can still pounce. Biodiversity, especially in urban areas, is already in distress.”

Greenberg doesn’t buy Larsen-Olloway’s argument that a well-fed, neutered cat is less likely to hunt.

“I’m not saying they won’t bring a mouse up,” Larsen-Olloway said. “Hell, I’d kill if I was hungry. But I’ve rarely seen them grab a bird.”

As if on queue, a flock of black birds descended to attack a bowl of cat chow Larsen had lodged in the snow.

Dr. Robyn Barbiers, veterinarian, and president of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, said there are just three choices to the problem of too many cats: Do nothing, trap and euthanize, or trap, neuter and return. Rounding-up and killing stray cats would likely cause an outcry, she said, and unless the practice was near absolute, it wouldn’t solve the problem because other cats would migrate in. Sated and neutered feral colonies can act as place holders while populations are decreased. And they may be less prone to predation, said Barbiers, who called the Smithsonian study “very flawed.”

In Cook County, the existence and maintenance of feral colonies has been regulated and reported since 2007. No such regulations exist in Lake County.

“We all agree that cats do predate at some level,” Barbiers said. “So let’s work together and reduce the cat population.”

Larsen-Olloway, who has about 50 domestic cats ready for adoption, also calls her strays to dinner.

“I can’t let ’em starve,” she said.

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