Feeding the kitties

Monday, October 29, 2007
A cat paused in a basement window of a vacant building Sunday in downtown Cairo while waiting for its next meal from Project Kitty City.
Fred Lynch ~ flynch@semissourian.com

CAIRO, Ill. -- Years after the factories, restaurants and businesses moved away from downtown Cairo, the felines have moved in. One couple has taken it upon themselves to not only keep the kitties healthy and fed, but also get them spayed, neutered and vaccinated.

Four years ago Sandy and Larry Potts, who live in the Illinois river town, found five white kittens in a trash bin behind the high rise on Ohio Street. They didn't have room for the animals at home, but the Pottses decided to help take care of them anyway.

They began feeding the stray litter, "and it just grew from there," Sandy Potts said.

They started Project Kitty City to curb the feral cat problem. The project takes its name from the original site of the kitty buffet -- the old Cairo City Hall. There are now seven places the Pottses feed the cats, but the city hall remains the most populated feeding site.

Project Kitty City is a trap-neuter-return program that has spayed 52 cats, neutered 35 and adopted out 87 of the feral cats that roam the abandoned downtown. In 2004, the city of Cairo accepted the TNR proposal and granted the use of the old city hall building as a feeding station.

Larry and Sandy Potts delivered a meal to feral cats behind a vacant building Sunday in downtown Cairo, Ill. They started Project Kitty City, a trap-neuter-return program, to help curb the feral cat problem in downtown Cairo. Fred Lynch ~ flynch@semissourian.com

The goal is to get all the cats fixed so they won't have more kittens to add to the population.

"We get it all done and another one shows up," Larry Potts said as he drove along Poplar Street, honking the horn to let the cats know it was dinnertime.

"They know the car," he said. "They know it by the sight and the sound."

The Pottses drive down Poplar Street, stopping at one of the Mighty Rivers Regional Worship Center buildings and then continue on to the old city hall, the trunk lid of their Honda Civic open, exposing large bags of dry cat food and several cans of wet food. They have already replaced the hatch once because of frequent opening and closing while feeding the cats. Now they just keep the trunk open.

Around 5:30 every night, they stop to fill up bowls with fresh water and scatter food on the ground for Black Mama, Little Black Mama, India and Sugar.

"She's got them all named," Larry Potts said of his wife, who calls a roll of cat names as they drive.

"Spotted Mama, Romeo, Koala."

Sandy Potts calls herself "Cairo's official crazy cat lady." She wears earrings shaped like cat heads and has a cat brooch pinned on her lapel. She keeps track of which cats have been brought in and which ones need to be tamed and caught.

When the Pottses do catch one of the new cats, they take it to the Charleston, Mo., Animal Health Center. The center boards the cats until they have time to do all the work. Then the Pottses pick the cats up and return them to where they were found.

Cairo doesn't have a Humane Society. The Pottses tried Anna, Ill., and Carbondale, Ill., but those were far away and required advance appointments.

"You just can't do that with feral cats," Larry Potts said. "You get them when you can."

Larry Potts is the pastor at Mighty Rivers in Cairo. The church held a benefit concert Sunday to raise money for Project Kitty City. Charleston residents Terry Parker and Sallie Goodin performed an organ-piano concert, their second annual benefit concert for the cause. Betty C. Hearnes sang as a soloist at the event.

It's the best solution for a city, said Rodney Dennis, to "just spay and neuter them."

Dennis and his wife Dorothy attend church at Mighty Rivers and were at the concert. They said they don't really notice a major problem with the cat population.

"They all congregate in one place," Dorothy Dennis said.

Both agreed that the work the Pottses do to keep the cats healthy is a good effort.

Sunday's concert raised around $1,500 -- an amount Sandy Potts said would help for "a number of weeks."

They money goes to buying food, fixing the cats, getting them shots and also testing them for leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.

"Feral cats are bad about having that," Larry Potts said.

Project Kitty City also gets money from CDs parishioners or Sandy Potts have made. She also wrote and illustrated a children's book called "The First Christmas Kitten."


335-6611, extension 246

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