Thursday, September 22, 2011


The Cats of Stone Ledge is excited to participate in the countdown to National Feral Cat Day!

National Feral Cat Day (NFCD) is celebrated each year on October 16th with many different events happening across the country. To learn about events taking place in your area go to: Alley Cat Allies  This year, to celebrate this special day, the Stone Ledge cats voted paws down to post a daily blog that exemplifies the important contributions stray and feral cats make to our human communities throughout the year.

Our first blog is about a group of working ferals that live in Marseilles, Illinois. These industrious cats work 24/7 to keep Marseilles free of rodents:

Green Cats of Marseilles: Forget rodent traps and poisons — Smoky Joe is on patrol

by Charles Stanley (

On Main Street in Marseilles — between the railroad tracks and the Illinois and Michigan Canal —there's a colony of working feral cats.

They would prefer just to be left alone to do one of the things they do best, which is to provide effective and free rodent control.

The little social unit headed up by Smoky Joe — a buff and orange tomcat, his four females and their dozen or more offspring — patrol both sides of South Main Street, an area with several restaurants and taverns. They live on food handouts, garbage scavenging and a diminishing number of mice and rats.

The colony, and others in Marseilles, Seneca and nearby areas, are comprised of feral cats managed by Jennifer Bilyeu of Spay It Forward, a nonprofit animal welfare organization headquartered in Seneca.

She has several controlled colonies, including ones at Woodsmoke Ranch and Skydive Chicago. Next year she hopes to begin work in Illinois State Park.

The notion of "green rodent control" is spreading in towns across the county, she said.

The basic idea is that feral cats, properly managed, can reduce or eliminate rodents without the use of traps, poisons or toxic sprays. This is accomplished by their scent, which is repellent to mice and rats, and, of course, their instinctive skills at mousing and ratting.

The concept only is somewhat new for urban neighborhoods, said Bilyeu.

"Farmers have known this forever," she said.

The mechanics of managing each colony are basic. You find a human who will feed them, provide the cats with winter shelters and work to get them spayed or neutered. The last item is important, both to keep the colony from growing and also to settle down the colony.

Once the cats have been fixed, the yowling, fighting and other activities unappreciated by people diminish, Bilyeu said.

"Once that colony is stabilized it's a proven fact that the cats will be more friendly to each other and more loving to each other," Bilyeu told the Marseilles City Council at its last meeting.

The fact that Marseilles has rats and mice is to be expected, the same as it would be in any other town with a canal and river, she said.

"You're going to have rodent city if you don't have those cats down there," she told the council.

In the past, the rodent problem was worse.

A century ago, Marseilles constable W.D. Quinn advocated an annual rat killing day, according to a 1911 article in the Daily Republican-Times newspaper. Quinn suggested everybody in the city should turn out one day each year to kill as many as they could of the 2,000 rats that he calculated were in the city — and proving particularly annoying at the canal.

The feral cats are a practical solution, Bilyeu told the council.

"This is a green alternative for rodent control and it's also a lot cheaper to trap, neuter and return those kitties," she said.

The "TNR" procedure is handled by Bilyeu.

"I prefer to trap and transfer by myself because I've done it for a million years," she said.

She takes the trapped cats to Illinois Valley Cat Taxi in Mendota, where they are transported to PAWS, a no-kill humane organization on the North Side of Chicago.

There each cat gets the $36 feral cat package: spayed or neutered, rabies and distemper vaccines, a flea treatment, microchipped and ear-tipped.

With ear-tipping, the top centimeter of the cat's left ear is clipped flat and cauterized.

"There's no nerve ending up there so it doesn't hurt them," said Bilyeu. "Then I can tell by looking at these guys who's done and who isn't."

She keeps a file for each colony with the paperwork and photos of each cat.

"I know who's out there."

She began work with the "Bar Alley" colony early this year and hopes to be finished by the end of the year.
Bilyeu said a typical lifespan for a feral cat is six years — weather, diseases, poisonings and run-ins with vehicles take their toll.

"But as long as they stay out of the road and nobody's really messing with them they can live even longer."

When Bilyeu began work with the Bar Alley colony she discovered it already had a feeder — animal lover Sandy Dennis.

"I just met her by accident one night when I was out here trapping," said Bilyeu.

Dennis said it was Francine Babcock, a kitchen worker at the Illini Lounge, who made her aware the feral cats were present.

"She's another one with a good heart," said Dennis.

Dennis began bringing cat food every night, both dry and wet, as long as it offered the correct nurtition.

The cats, although wild, grew to trust her. Now they come running at the sound of her van.

Bilyeu also runs a sort of continuing education program for local residents about feral cats.

She said the notion of wild cats can make people uncomfortable and want to do something.

"A lot of people think they're going to help them by turning them in to a shelter or animal control. If they do that they're dead."

"They're no more suitable to live in a home at this point than a raccoon would be. The best thing is to leave them in their colony with their mother and their siblings. It's their home. They're not going to mate. They're not going to reproduce.

"They're going to live out their lives here and do an important service for the community at the same time."

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