WISE, Va. — If Southwest Virginia has a professional cat herder, it’s Julia Winston.
She’s wrangled dozens of stray, unwanted and community cats in Southwest Virginia through the Wise County Humane Society’s Trap-Neuter-Return program, more commonly known as TNR.
"We’ve trapped about 200 cats over the past year," Winston said. "It’s become such a terrible thing, and when the economy started to go sour, it got a lot worse, and people started leaving their cats behind. Many times, people simply won’t do the right thing and will just dump them out."
An upcoming workshop in Abingdon will offer the general public advice and help on local Trap-Neuter-Return programs in the region.
"We want anyone who is concerned about unwanted cats in the area to come," Winston said. "Through this training workshop, our main goal is to end the suffering of unwanted cats that are producing, and we hope people will have a better understanding of the TNR process."
TNR involves humanely trapping cats that have no home and transporting them to a clinic, where they will be spayed or neutered. After the cat recuperates, it’s returned back to the wild.
According to Winston, the problem continues to grow in rural parts of Southwest Virginia.
"There was no TNR work being done in this area before," Winston said. "The need is so great that you could have upwards of 100 rescue groups and still not [have] taken care of the problem fully."
Winston and her team’s latest trapping involved a newborn kitten found in Big Stone Gap.
"We found the kitten behind Lonesome Pine Hospital," Winston said. "We had to quickly find someone to foster the kitten, and they will also have to bottle feed it every two hours, too."
The number of unowned cats living on the streets in the U.S. is between 30 million and 80 million, according to new research from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Winston, a retired teacher, works alongside another former teacher, Vicki Williams, at the Wise County Humane Society. Both women have a passion for animal rescue and trap work.
"I now work full time doing trap work," Winston said. "Both Vicki and I are very serious about this, and we will continue to trap these cats that end up in these horrid conditions."
Winston said she has a simple message for those who dump their animals.
"Part of our mission is to educate the public," Winston said. "There is still a wide perception that cats can take care of themselves. People don’t understand how much animals suffer when they’re dumped. Cats need to be fed every day, and they also need shelter. Our hope is that, through this upcoming workshop, we will be able to offer some insight into this issue."