Group educates community on animal issues

By Emily Ulber

Self-proclaimed animal lover Jennifer Chiles noticed several years ago that one group in the Bowling Green area seemed to be getting overlooked.

“There are very few organizations in our community for animals,” Chiles said. “We’ve got all kinds of things for people, with Goodwill, The Salvation Army, United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs…the list goes on.”

And the animal-focused groups that do exist, like the Warren County Humane Society, are so busy dealing with all the new animals brought in every day — using nearly all their volunteers to walk and care for animals at the shelter — that they do not have much time to educate community members about animal issues, she said.

Chiles is now a board member on A Voice For Animals, a nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals and responsible pet ownership. She has worked with the organization since its inception in 2003.

A Voice For Animals worked with more than 200 classrooms in Warren and Allen counties last year. They produce a newsletter called KIND News, which uses stories and games to teach kids how to take care of their animals.

“Kids learn from their parents,” Chiles said. “If they have a dog at home that’s on a chain in the backyard without shade or shelter, they can go home and say, ‘Hey, in my newsletter it says dogs are very sociable and they want to be part of our family.’ Hopefully they’ll educate their parents, too.”

The organization also runs the Pets in Need program, which helps cover vet costs for an injured animal that has been brought in off the street by a “good samaritan,” she said.

But Chiles devotes most of her time to A Voice For Animals’ feral cat program. She estimates there are more than 11,000 feral cats — cats that are no longer sociable with human beings — in the Warren County area.

It can start with just one female cat who has been left alone for a long period of time and has her kittens somewhere secluded, like under a porch or behind a shed.

“By the time those kittens come out, they’ve never been petted, they’ve never had human contact, and they’re scared of human beings,” Chiles said.

With a lot of time and effort, one of those kittens can be gradually socialized, she said.

“But if that kitten has kittens, they’re another generation removed from human beings, and there’s no socializing those cats,” Chiles said. “The time necessary to socialize a feral cat is so great, and if you can go to the shelter and get a kitty who just wants to sit in your lap and play, you’re going to get that kitty.”

And since most shelters do not have the time or manpower it takes to socialize a feral cat that has been brought in off the street, many end up being euthanized — at the taxpayers’ expense.

A Voice For Animals participates in the nationwide Trap-Neuter-Return program, in which a feral cat is safely trapped, taken in to be spayed or neutered, and then returned to its home.

Once a cat has been spayed or neutered, its behavior will change, Chiles said.

“Females don’t come into heat, so they’re not crying, they’re not attracting male cats, they’re not having kittens,” she said. “The males don’t fight, they’re not spraying so much, they’re not marking their territory and they’re not roaming, so it makes a huge difference.”

Chiles said she has gotten calls from people who started out feeding just one cat, and all of a sudden find themselves with seven or eight on their doorstep.

“They’re really pushing the panic button,” she said. “They want to keep feeding them, but their neighbors are complaining, their pocket book is complaining and they don’t know what to do. We take it from a panicked situation to [where it’s] controlled, where they’re enjoying the cats again.”

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