The Queen of TNR

She started with an adopted dog from Best Friends and now her world is filled with cats!

Recently, Yvette Pina learned she had been nominated for the Presidential Volunteer Service Award by Debra Potter, one of her co-workers at the Environmental Protection Agency. The honor is given annually to a federal employee for outstanding volunteer service.

The nomination came not as a result of her work at the EPA, but rather for her tireless efforts in reducing the feral cat population in Chicago. Since November 2006, Yvette has successfully trapped, neutered and returned more than 150 cats and kittens. She and her husband, Frank, have built several "feral villas," small wooden structures similar to doghouses offering ferals refuge from Chicago’s stifling summers and bone-chilling winters.

Yvette also offers free Helping Community Cats TNR workshops once a week for various animal welfare organizations, including Chicago Animal Care and Control, PAWS Chicago and Tree House Humane Society. Debra thought to nominate Yvette for the service award after enlisting her help with a feral cat issue in her own neighborhood.

"I didn’t know a thing about feral cats," explains Debra. "I wouldn’t have known how to care for them or the importance of TNR had it not been for Yvette. But she taught me the ropes and lent me traps. Thanks to her and to my neighborhood rallying together, we have done TNR and have a small and healthy feral cat colony here."

The award doesn’t come with a monetary prize – just national recognition for a job well done. And for Yvette, that’s reward enough.

"I think people want to help feral cats; they’re just not sure how," says Yvette. "I’m always happy to talk to people about where to go, what to do – and I really enjoy presenting the workshops because I was in the audience’s position once myself."

Yvette’s Crusade

Like Debra, Yvette didn’t know anything about feral cats when she first moved into her house on the west side of Chicago. (By the way, she and Frank moved into that house specifically to accommodate Dundee Boy, a big lug of a dog they adopted from Best Friends!)

She had seen stray cats in her front yard, but every time she tried to approach them, they scattered. About three months after the couple moved in, she found a kitten. Yvette had started a blog to document Dundee Boy’s move to Chicago, so she thought if she posted a plea on the site, she could find the kitten a home. That’s when PAWS Chicago outreach coordinator Susan Robinson contacted Yvette.

"She told me I needed to learn about TNR," says Yvette. "I didn’t know what she was talking about."

Yvette met Susan at PAWS, where she received a "ton of written material" and a cage to begin trapping. Yvette remembers thinking, "My God, what have I gotten myself into?"

It took a while before Yvette mustered the courage to set her first trap. In the meantime, she read up on TNR. According to statistics compiled by the Chicago Animal Shelter Alliance through the 2000 census, there are as many as 500,000 feral cats roaming the streets of Chicago. While domestic cats are neutered 82-91 percent of the time, it’s estimated that only 2 percent of ferals are sterilized.

And feral kittens are the largest population of animals killed in Chicago.

That did it. Yvette went out with the trap and almost immediately caught her first cat. She took the cat to PAWS, which runs a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for ferals and qualifying low-income clients with animal companions. For $20, Yvette’s first feral was spayed and received rabies and distemper shots and ear tipping. She paid an additional six bucks for microchipping (mandatory in Illinois).

She then went through the same routine with the other 149 cats, shelling out $3,900 of her own money.

Yvette admits, "It’s financially draining at times, but it’s very rewarding to see healthy cats as opposed to pregnant or emaciated nursing ferals."

Feral Kingdom

Today, Yvette goes out daily to feed her current kingdom of four feral colonies, each populated with 16-20 cats. She also traps three times a week. For the past month or so, Yvette has found no new ferals in her neighborhood.

"We get breaks," she explains. "Times when we see no new feral cats. That means we’ve TNR’d all the animals in the colonies." But then abandoned, lost or stray cats show up. Sometimes neighboring ferals find their way to one of Yvette’s colonies. And then the TNR begins again.

"That’s why I’m out there as often as I am – to make sure I do what I can to keep the population down," says Yvette.

Photos of Yvette and Frank Pina and some very lucky ferals compliments of Yvette

For more about Best Friends’ Feral Cat Program and our efforts in Randolph, Iowa, click here.