Cat-astrophic No More? Relief Efforts Give Some Veneta Kitties A Home Fur The Holidays

Dec 6, 2019

After three months’ intervention, animal rescue operations are largely wrapping up at a homestead near Veneta that was previously overrun with cats.  Reporter Brian Bull has this update exclusive to KLCC.

Inset: Greenhill employee Rachel Brungardt with 'Finn', a cat rescued from a Veneta homestead overrun with felines. The larger photo is taken in late August 2019, when news of the large clowder made headlines.
Credit Megan Brezovar; Brian Bull / Green Hill Humane Society; KLCC

Initial estimates said up to 400 cats were on the property. That’s since dropped to 120, tops. The organization, Alley Cat Allies, and Eugene-based Greenhill Humane Society, teamed up in September to carry out a policy of Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) for most of the animals.

An August 2019 photo shows at the time, feeding stations and water bowls were scattered, and no immediate shelter - save for some totes - were available. Relief efforts have led to more consolidated feeding/watering stations, as well as wood structures filled with straw for those cats remaining on the premises.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Sasha Elliott is Greenhill’s Director of Operations. Walking with her feet wrapped in garbage bags to protect against cat feces in the grassy yard, she shows off some of the Veneta property’s new structures, including feeding stations.  Built largely with an Alley Cat Allies volunteer from Albany overseeing the construction, their design is to best faciliate feeding and safety, away from local wildlife including turkeys.

Some of the roughly estimated 100-120 cats at the homestead. Earlier it was surmised between 300-400 felines were here, but that number has been re-evaluated since August 2019.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“It allows the cats to freely move in and out, to consume food,” Elliott explains, as a few felines circle her, affectionately.

One of the recent cat shelters built on the Veneta-area homestead, which provides shelter and shade, as well as straw-bedding for the guesstimated 100-120 cats.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“The holes are – while large enough for cats - they are too small for other wildlife, like turkeys and such.  So the cats are safe and sound in there, they’re dry.”

A small team from Alley Cat Allies has been helping out at the beleaguered residence since September. President and co-founder Becky Robinson says she appreciates the partnership with Greenhill, as well as the outpouring of concern and support from volunteers and the community in addressing the situation.

Becky Robinson, President and co-founder of Alley Cat Allies, based in Maryland.
Credit Provided by Peter Osborne / Alley Cat Allies

“We’re very pleased to report what a success it’s been in such a short period of time,” Robinson, tells KLCC.   

Robinson says her organization is well equipped to handle situations like this one.  The Maryland-based group has been around for nearly 30 years, and has been present at some of the country’s worst disasters.

“We helped almost 200 cats in Atlantic City, and we helped with many, many more cats after the Paradise Fires in Northern California.

“And of course in Katrina, which was many years ago, we set up a base camp there, and we helped with hundreds of cats from the New Orleans and the greater New Orleans area.”

The shelters come in a variety of sizes and styles, but all are designed to give the felines protection and comfort.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

A couple dozen cats or so have still managed to elude capture so far, but others may soon become socialized enough for TNR – and possibly adoption- early next year.  But with the stations and shelters in place, conditions have greatly improved for the cat colony just in time for winter.  And with all returned animals spayed or fixed, the population will remain under better control.

Four cats were humanely euthanized at Greenhill due to unmanageable medical conditions, says Greenhill's Elliott. But the outcome has largely been a win-win.

Finn the Cat, doing his thing.
Credit Rachel Brungardt / Greenhill Humane Society

To date, fourteen cats from the Veneta area residence have been adopted. Greenhill animal care technician Rachel Brungardt herself adopted an orange tabby from there.  She's named him Finn, and like any social media savvy owner, gave him an Instagram account (finny.baby if you’re curious).

“He sits like a human…sittin’ up straight with his arms forward, his back legs straight out, and he’ll sit on the couch, or on the floor, or on a chair…it’s great,” laughs Brungardt.

Finn is also unfazed by most noises, and has a quirky personality that reminds his owner of dogs.

As to the root cause of the Veneta colony, a relative of the property owner says it began 13 years ago with just one mama cat and a litter of five kittens. 

Since female cats can reproduce most of their lives, and have 3-5 kittens per litter, it's not surprising an exponential explosion could happen within just a few years. And there's some suspicion that area residents may have dropped off their own cats at the site time and time again, adding to the numbers.

Relief workers add the people at the residence had good intentions, but became simply overwhelmed over time. Donations and having some cats adopted have helped alleviate the burden, though the cats still manage to consume a good quantity on a regular basis.

A gray cat greets visitors outside a feeding area and several wooden cat shelters.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“We are estimating that these cats are eating somewhere around 30 or so pounds of food a day,” says Elliott.  “We are helping to support that food through our free community pet food bank.

“That supports not just the cats here in Veneta, but cats and dogs in need from all over Lane County.”

Previous efforts before the intervention largely fell on a couple individuals, who struggled to keep up with the large cat clowder's appetites and medical needs. Food and water were more widely distributed across the expanse of the property.  Now, the watering and feeding stations are fewer and more consolidated.

WEB EXTRA: A Walk-Through Of The Veneta Homestead Three Months After The Arrival Of Alley Cat Allies' Relief Team with Greenhill's Sasha Elliott.

As to the ongoing costs with staff and resources, Elliott figures this particular rescue operation is running around $20,000 for Greenhill.  She says people who wish to help can donate to her organization, and of course, inquire about adoptions should there be more sometime in the future.

Megan Brezovar and Sasha Elliott of Greenhill Humane Society, outside the residence outside Veneta, Dec. 6, 2019.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Both Elliott and Alley Cat Allies’ Becky Robinson say getting your pets fixed is key. They say they’re happy to refer people to affordable spay and neuter services, or to assist with any potential pet hoarding situations as they arise. 

"Many people want to help but don't know what to do," says Robinson. "Some worry what will happen to the cats. 

"Organizations like ours work towards the best outcome, and people need not be afraid to reach out."

Copyright 2019, KLCC.