Cornwall Community Cats has had a great deal of success in reducing feral cat populations since its formation as a trap, neuter and return (TNR) organization in September 2019, but volunteers were confronted with one heart-breaking fact:
There were a lot of homeless kittens living rough in the Cornwall area.
The realization led to an expansion of their services into neighboring West Cornwall Township, as well as the creation of a new branch of the organization called Cornwall Kitten Fosters.
“It’s really been kind of a whirlwind. It’s been successful, though,” Jennifer Wentzel, founder of Cornwall Community Cats, told LebTown. “We were able to form a volunteer group — basically, if residents contact us about feeding cats that are not altered, we can respond. We put together a plan to come out and do a trap, neuter and return.”
As of Sept. 27, Wentzel said, the group has altered and released 253 cats. She makes twice-yearly reports to Borough Council, she noted; council members have been so happy with the program, she added, that they recently amended an ordinance that bans feeding feral cats to allow for TNR programs that use food as bait.
Initially, the group offered services just in Cornwall Borough, but they expanded into West Cornwall Township late last summer. This past August, the group received its 501c3 status as a nonprofit agency.
Cornwall Kitten Fosters was launched late in 2021 as a program within the program. Amanda Musser, one of the group’s volunteers, stepped up as head of the foster program.
“It’s so helpful to us to have this foster component,” Wentzel said. “When we pull the kittens from a property, they’re still young enough to be socialized. It unburdens that property and the kittens have a good chance to be adopted.”
They have six families fostering kittens until they can be placed, Musser explained. As of Sept. 27, she said, 174 kittens have been successfully placed in new homes.
“We of course want to make sure they’re old enough to leave their mom and that they’re eating on their own,” she said. “Unless of course there’s a danger to the kittens, in which case they’re pulled.”
Once taken in by the group, Musser said they are “immediately vaccinated, dewormed, treated for fleas and, of course, given lots of snuggles. That’s the most important part. We socialize them, we monitor their weights.”
They partner with the Vetting Zoo Animal Hospital in Palmyra and the Lititz Veterinary Clinic in Lancaster County, both of which donate services and provide support, to make sure the kittens are healthy.
“When we pull kittens, 90 percent of the time they’re ill. It’s a pretty harsh environment out there,” Musser explained. “Most of them need to be seen pretty quickly after we pull them.”
Fosters and adoptions
Musser said foster families take one or two litters at a time — she noted litters can range from a single kitten to six or seven baby cats.
“We have one foster family who has 11 kittens right now,” she said. “I have five in my house. … One was extremely sick and had to be nursed back to health, but now he’s thriving.”
Musser said the organization could add additional foster families to the program as their needs increase, but “my hope is that we are doing TNR successfully enough that we won’t need as many foster families in the future. … We’re really trying to work on the problem here in the township and borough.”
Anyone interested in adopting a kitten through the program will undergo screening “to make sure they have what we’re looking for in a permanent home,” Musser said. That includes providing proof of home ownership or landlord’s permission to own a cat. Kittens will be spayed or neutered if they are old enough at the time of adoption; if not, she said, the adopter must agree to get the procedure done later.
“We want each of these kittens to be safe and loved,” Musser said.
Adopters are also asked for a $30 adoption fee to help support the program. Otherwise, the program’s annual budget — which ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 each year, Wentzel said — is supported entirely through donations and fundraisers.
When a resident calls to report a litter of feral kittens in their neighborhood, “we require them to commit to getting any outdoor cats in their area altered, so we’re not a kitten farm,” Wentzel said. “We have no desire to do that. We want to address the root of the problem.”
“Sometimes we have to say no,” Musser added. “We have to be careful. As with anything else, the more kittens we take, the more money we spend. We can only take as many as we can financially afford.”
Musser said she and Wentzel do most of the legwork for the organization with the help of a handful of other volunteers. All told, she said, they have an active volunteer base of 20 to 30 people.
“It’s a testament to the vets and our foster families,” Wentzel said. “I’m always blown away by the generosity and compassion of our foster families.”
TNR program continues
Wentzel said the group responds to areas where feral cats are active when they’re alerted by residents or tipped off by a concerned neighbor.
“If we see a lot of cats in an area, we would certainly enquire further,” she said.
“We also work very closely with Cornwall Borough police,” Musser added. “Our police force’s members are all animal lovers, and they will often call us if someone finds a kitten or an injured cat. We have a really great relationship with them. It’s a really cool partnership to have.”
The service is provided to residents of Cornwall Borough and West Cornwall Township at no cost, although donations to help cover expenses are welcome, Wentzel said. If the group responds to areas outside of their primary municipalities, they ask residents to cover the cost of surgery to spay or neuter the cats. To date, she noted, they’ve responded to calls in Lebanon city, Annville, Heidelberg and South Lebanon townships, and even parts of Lancaster County.
“We try to help anyone who reaches out needs it,” she said.
The idea, Wentzel said, is catching on in other municipalities, some of which have contacted her for information on how to launch their own TNR programs.
“If anyone is interested, please reach out to us,” she said.
“We love what we do,” Musser said. “We’re so thankful to be able to help the kittens. I can’t believe the numbers, it’s crazy — it definitely shows the need.”
Information on TNR programs as well as the group’s fundraising efforts are available on the Cornwall Community Cats Facebook page. Kittens that are available for adoption are spotlighted on a separate Cornwall Kitten Fosters page.
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