It doesn’t always take a genius to find solutions to long-standing issues. Sometimes it just takes asking the right people.

That’s largely how a new initiative of the Bartholomew County Humane Society found unusual success in securing new homes for homeless cats.

Humane Society board members Trudi Smith and Wendy Elwood are the co-creators of the Kitty Education and Placement Project (KEAPP), approved in April.

Through KEAPP, the women arranged to transport more than 40 domesticated cats to the Indianapolis and Cleveland areas, where they were adopted in days.

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Since the average stay of a cat at the Humane Society shelter in Columbus is a full year, the transports made an impressive but temporary dent in the animal shelter population, Elwood said.

Doors of opportunity began to open after Smith and Elwood began discussing the cat overpopulation problem with other local animal agencies in town, Smith said.

It was Nicohl Birdwell-Goodin, general manager of Columbus Animal Care Services, who linked the two women with a Brown County resident who operates a pet transport service, the women said.

Smith describes Cathi Eagan, who runs Canine Express east of Nashville, as a “god-send of a lady” who works tirelessly to transport animals to Cleveland and other eastern U.S. cities.

“(Eagan) knows so many people and how to network with many different agencies,” Elwood said.

But there was a catch.

Since the larger cities request specific traits from the animals they accept, the KEAPP initiative had to create a database that lists information including each cat’s name, age, gender and condition, as well as medical records and required medications.

Although it requires ongoing updates, the Humane Society has discovered the database is also valuable when seeking grants from outside organizations requiring accountability, Elwood said.

While Canine Express was surprisingly effective, the service temporarily became unavailable after “the kitty explosion happened,” Smith said.

She’s referring to the late spring peak time for cats to give birth, which floods animal shelters and rescue groups across the nation with homeless litters every year.

Collaborative efforts

Three months into the program, the KEAPP initiative continues to either implement or explore other ways to keep the homeless cat population in check in Bartholomew County.

One is a partnership with the Humane Society of Indianapolis that brings in pet food to surrounding rescues and shelters, the women said. Another was a collaboration with Community Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) to secure a part-time veterinarian following a retirement at the Humane Society, Smith said.

CARE also has provided a valuable service to the Humane Society by taking in nervous dogs and cats who fear other animals in the shelter, she said.

Discussions also are underway with the Litter Box Kitty Rescue, a local nonprofit organization, about broadening a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program for feral cats, Smith said.

Whether you call them strays, Toms or alley cats, ferals are wild and undomesticated animals that can only live in the wild. The TNR program involves picking up ferals, performing a spay or neuter, and returning them to the wild.

Bartholomew County Animal Control director Mark Case has also been keeping the women up to date on areas that are most inundated with feral cats, Elwood said.

As for helping the more adoptable felines, the KEAPP initiative has been providing a special adoption rate of $60 for cats 6 months and younger throughout the month of July.

Considering that $60 cost includes vaccinations, disease testing, spaying, a flea treatment, a microchip, identification tag and even a goodie bag, many find the fee quite reasonable.

More marketing promotions are ahead.

On Aug. 12, the KEAPP initiative will sponsor a back-to-school adoption day — with prize drawings every hour and the same special adoption rate on all cats.

Educating the public

No matter how many new programs are implemented, the only permanent success in controlling the homeless cat population must come through education, both women said.

“Cats are thought by many to be a disposable barn animal, instead of indoor pets,” Smith said. “They don’t value a cat like they do a dog, and won’t invest as much in them. That mindset needs to come up a bit.”

For Elwood, the best place to start was with herself. Although she never considered herself an avid cat lover, Elwood provided temporary shelter to several kittens at her home before they were sent off to adoption.

After naming an orange-haired cat “Donald” (after Trump), she proceeded to use the first names of other 2016 presidential candidates to give the remaining kittens their own moniker.

Others are named Hillary, Marco, Bernie, Ted and Carly.

“Cats can be very loving,” Elwood said in regard to her experience as a feline foster parent. “If you give them a chance, they’ll steal your heart.”

But when dealing with feral cats, kindness needs to be balanced with practicality, she said. Most people who feed wild cats aren’t aware they are motivating ferals to mate with domesticated neighborhood cats (with homes), Elwood said.

For that reason, those who feed ferals should accept the responsibility of ensuring the animals have been spayed or neutered, she said.

There’s one thing all the efforts of the Bartholomew County Humane Society have in common: they cost money.

That’s why the Fur Ball fundraiser is now held annually during the holiday season. Last December, patrons paid $125 each to attend the upscale event that includes a live auction and gaming entertainment, as well as the dance.

While Fur Balls have long been held in other communities as animal care fundraisers, Columbus may be unique in providing a unique theme used for dress, music and decorations, Elwood said.

Theme of the inaugural 2014 Fur Ball was “The Great Catsby.” Last year’s event was “The Wizard of Pawz.” Their next challenge is to come up with a theme just as fun for this year.

Money raised during each Fur Ball is used to benefit a range of educational and spay-neuter programs with the Bartholomew County Humane Society.

Bartholomew County Humane Society overview

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the Bartholomew County Humane Society handles just under 1,300 animals annually.

With a staff of two full-time and three part-time employees, the Humane Society cares for more than 100 animals daily at its facility, located at 4110 E. County Road 200S, Columbus.

Regular volunteers who assist the staff include home-schooled students, high school project students, retired, working and developmentally challenged adults.

Normal adoptions fees are $115. To prepare an animal for adoptions costs an average of $153 for a dog and about $114 for a cat.

How You Can Help

Monetary donations are always welcome at the Bartholomew County Humane Society. However, the organization also encourages residents to contribute the following items used daily in animal care.

  • Clay type cat litter (non-scoopable)
  • Paper towels
  • Bleach
  • Laundry detergent
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Heavy-duty trash bags 35 gallon and smaller
  • Blankets/rugs that are machine washable
  • Copier paper
  • Dry dog and dry cat food (Iams)
  • Baking soda
  • Liquid hand soap
  • Powdered automatic dishwasher soap

Information: Call 812-372-6063 or visit bartholomewhumane.org

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.