By Melissa Wagoner
When Kristen Storer received a message from the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) informing her that the organization would no longer be accepting stray cats from Marion County after Nov. 15, 2022, she was alarmed.
“I feel like no one knows about this and it will affect everybody,” Storer, a former veterinary technician and cat foster care volunteer for the past three years, said.
OHS’s decision came about after Marion County failed to issue the organization a Memorandum of Understanding, the language of which would allow stray cats to be admitted to OHS without verifying prior ownership first.
“Without a legal agreement in place, we must follow Oregon law under which cats are considered property,” OHS Communication Manager, Laura Klink, explained. “As such, state law requires an exhaustive process to find the owner of the ‘property.’”
But Marion County does not agree that the memorandum is legally required and so has, thus far, been disinclined to issue one.
“[R]egarding a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Marion County and the Oregon Humane Society, we do not believe that this MOU is legally required, either by applicable Oregon statutes or by the Marion County Code, for the Oregon Humane Society to continue its mission of providing shelter for stray cats here in Marion County,” Jon Heynen, the Communications Officer for the Marion County Board of Commissioners, confirmed. “Their statements that they are no longer able to shelter cats because Marion County will not sign this MOU are misleading and, again, are not supported by Oregon law or county code.”
It’s a stalemate with neither party willing to budge.
“It’s finger pointing,” Storer’s daughter, Elizabeth,” agreed.
“And it’s not the cats’ fault,” Storer added.
And yet it is the cats, she fears, who will be most affected.
“[T]hey need vet care, they can spread disease and they have lots and lots of babies,” she pointed out. “And people think cats are fine on their own but they’re not. They’re a domestic breed.”
It’s an opinion shared by Vivian Palm, director of Silverton Cat Rescue – a nonprofit whose mission it has been to rehome stray cats since its establishment in 2021.
“I love cats, but there are just too many…” Palm said. “Kittens can get pregnant as early as four months old and have three litters a year.”
The best solution, she said, is to ensure as many cats as possible are either spayed or neutered – a service OHS is still offering, even to cats from Marion County.
“It’s important to know that we are still providing a wide range of services for cats and kittens,” Klink said. “This includes accepting stray felines from Polk County” – where a MOU is on file – “helping pet owners who need to surrender their cats and kittens; helping injured or sick stray cats and kittens; providing spay/neuter services to feral cats and owned cats.”
But these services, Storer fears, will not be enough.
“Our community will get overrun,” she worried. “It needs to get figured out now, before kitten season.” Which is just around the corner.
It’s a situation Storer worries that, if left unresolved, could lead to an increase in cats abandoned in the wild.
“This is hard for me to criticize another rescue,” Palm, who has successfully placed an estimated 300 cats during the past 15 months, said, “but I think the public needs to know that OHS and Marion County are turning their backs on injured and helpless stray cats.”
It’s an issue she, too, hopes will be remedied quickly.
“I hope that Oregon Humane Society and Marion County will work together to solve this problem,” she said. “The only way that will happen is if the public puts pressure on them to work out a solution. OHS donors need to speak up also.”
In the meantime, she is calling for OHS to create a task force of established rescues and trap-neuter-return volunteers. And for the public to help by fostering or adopting a cat in need of a home or by donating to cat shelters. But more than anything she hopes people will spay and neuter the cats in their care.
“The most important thing people can do to help cats, is to get their cats fixed,” she said. “If you are feeding a stray cat, reach out to us to help you get the cat fixed…The community needs to step up.”
Editor’s note: The headquarters of Silverton Cat Rescue burned down after this story was completed.
See next article for details.