Trapping program in Volusia County keeps feral cat population in check

Getting Results Award winner starts her day early to help animals in need

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - As the early-morning sun rises above the horizon, Tonja Heer heads south on U.S. 1 in Volusia County. The storage space in the back of her Honda Odyssey is empty. The only thing filling it
is the filtered amber light of the rising sun.

“I love my van,” she says as dawn breaks. “There’s been times I’ve transported between nine
and 12 cats and kittens. It gives me a lot of room.”

Heer is the founder of Furry Nation Salvation, an all-volunteer nonprofit animal rescue
organization.

Every Friday, she’s behind the wheel before most people have had their morning coffee.

Heer pulls off the road in New Smyrna Beach and her face lights up.

“Oh yeah, here we go,” she says. “I’m super excited when I see cats in traps.”

In a matter of minutes, she’s loading two feral cats into the back of her car.

“No they’re not happy,” she says, as she slides in the metal cages. “We like to cover them with a towel to keep them calm.”

By the end of the day, these two will be right back there, but sterilized and unable to reproduce.

Heer has done this process more times than she can recall.

The animals are part of one of many registered colonies of feral cats spread across the county.
They’re fed by people, but are also wild and can't be adopted.

She says many colony caretakers are well-meaning. They feed the cats and often name them,
but are not able to get them to the clinic for surgery. Without intervention, the colony grows out
of control.

“You know a pair of breeding cats and their offspring, within seven years, can produce 420,000 cats,” she says, with the conviction of someone who has rattled off those numbers
more than a few times. “People don’t realize how fixing just one cat can make a huge difference.”

Heer says education is key to reducing the feral cat population. Furry Nation Salvation is just
one of many volunteer groups in Volusia County participating in the TNR (trap, neuter, return)
program sponsored by local government.

If a colony is registered through CCFAW (Concerned Citizens for Animal Welfare), spay/neuter
surgery is free of charge (by appointment only), and paid for by city and county government.

But drop-off and pickup times are limited, making it difficult for some people to get to
participating clinics. Today, Heer has to drop them off before 9 a.m.

Tom Hikec works nearby and feeds this colony. In fact, he helped trap them overnight but isn’t
able to get them to the clinic.

“She’s great,” he says. “I reached out to her a couple of years ago and she helped me get four
of five cats fixed. This is the result of that one cat we couldn’t get.”

Barry Kukes, the community outreach director for the Halifax Humane Society says TNR is a
humane, compassionate way to reduce the feral cat population.

“If you want to control the colony and growth of the feral cat population this is what you have
to do,” Kukes says. “It’s the alternative to euthanasia and we try not to do that.”

Kukes says the numbers prove that the program, which started in 2012 is getting results.

“Feral cat numbers brought here to the clinic were about 6,600 cats and then this past year it was
2,200. That’s down by more than half,” he says. “That’s a pretty major accomplishment thanks
to the efforts of people like her.”

Before the morning ends, Heer will have collected four feral cats from two registered colonies in
Eastern Volusia County. She will drop them off at the Redinger Spay and Neuter Clinic in
Daytona Beach where they’ll be sterilized before being returned to their colony.

“All these stray and feral cats, it’s not their fault,” she says. “It’s the people’s fault. We just need
to educate the people about fixing their animals.”

Heer was nominated for the News 6 Getting Results Award by viewer Erin Clancy. Clancy found
an abandoned kitten near her home and was looking for an option to dropping it off at a
shelter. She found Heer and Furry Nation Salvation, who had the kitten adopted within a week.

“I just love what she’s doing,” Clancy says. “She found something that she’s really passionate
about and it has this butterfly affect of making a difference.”

For more information about Furry Nation Salvation and the CCFAW spay/neuter program go to
FurryNationSalvation.org.

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