The Cats’ Meow: Corner Market Clerk Lena Woods Provides Food and Affection to Community Cats

The Corner Market sits on the southeast corner of an intersection in rural east Norman, Oklahoma Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

The Corner Market sits on the southeast corner of an intersection in rural east Norman, Oklahoma
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

You can assume Lena Woods is at work if you see a number of cats huddled outside the entrance to the Corner Market. Lena has worked for just over three years at the tiny rural convenience store perched against the side of a hill at an intersection east of the City of Norman, Oklahoma, and she has been caring for the cats there just as long.
Cats wait at the Corner Market entrance  for Lena Woods to come outside  Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Cats wait at the Corner Market entrance for Lena Woods to come outside
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

“They needed to be fed. They needed somebody to love them,” she says about the “Corner Kitties”. Lena’s concern for the Corner Kitties didn’t take long to spill over into the community, and she explains, “I just started feeding them, and people started bringing food and donating money. For about a year and a half people have been really getting into feeding the animals, which I think is awesome.”
Lena's donation jar for her Corner Kitties. The local community has been very supportive of Lena's effort to care for the cats at the Corner Market. Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Lena's donation jar for her Corner Kitties. The local community has been very supportive of Lena's efforts to care for the cats at the Corner Market.
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Feral cats are considered to be free-roaming cats with no owner. Truly feral cats do not seek human companionship, and are not candidates for adoption. It takes months to socialize a feral cat, and while they may bond to the person socializing, as the Corner Kitties have bonded to Lena, a feral cat will likely regress to a feral state when introduced to new people. It has been estimated that 100 million feral cats and dogs run rampant across the U.S. The majority of those animals are feral cats – basically house cats that were either lost or abandoned and then reverted to a “wild” state. Hands Helping Paws, an animal rescue group based in Norman, Oklahoma, estimates there are about 40,000 feral cats (224 per square mile) in the Norman area. There are an estimated 97,000 feral cats in Oklahoma City. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that there are as many as 50 million feral cats in the  United States
Hands Helping Paws humanely traps cats to perform health checks and spay or neuter cats before returning them to the Corner Market or adopting them out. Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Hands Helping Paws humanely traps cats to perform health checks and spay or neuter cats before returning them to the Corner Market or adopting them out.
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Hands Helping Paws promotes Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as the best, most humane way to control feral cat populations. With TNR, feral cats are humanely trapped, then spayed or neutered and vaccinated. TNR’d feral cats are then returned to their outdoor home while socialized cats and kittens are adopted into private homes. TNR improves the quality of life for existing colonies, prevents the birth of more cats, and reduces the number of cats over time. Lena called Hands Helping Paws for assistance with spaying and neutering the Corner Kitties, and especially with finding homes for the younger, adoptable cats. “Hands Helping Paws is awesome. If [the cats] are adoptable, they keep them. If they’re not, they bring them back”. Acknowledging the existence of groups advocating the eradication of feral cats by “kill methods,” Lena insists, “There’s nothing wrong with adopting these cats out, instead of just killing them all”.
Double Trouble: a pair of skunks takes advantage of Lena's love of all animals Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Double Trouble: a pair of skunks takes advantage of Lena's love of all animals
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

The Oklahoma Spay Network estimates about 90% of animal related complaints to police involve animals that have not been spayed or neutered. In Oklahoma, animal control costs exceed five million dollars per year. Russell Anderson, a supervisor for the Norman, Oklahoma, Police Department Dispatch, says that funding issues have led to the police department having to field animal welfare calls.
All sorts of animals make their way to the Corner Market, where they can take advantage of Lena Woods' love for all animals. Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

All sorts of animals make their way to the Corner Market, and Lena Woods cares for them all.
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

According to Russell, “lack of funding has left animal welfare shorthanded, and the police department now takes animal welfare calls, including calls about stray animals.” One Norman Animal Welfare Agency spokesperson, who asked not to be named, admitted that people who do call the Agency requesting pickup of stray animals are advised that a welfare officer cannot be dispatched and are offered the loan of traps to capture the animals themselves and bring them to the animal shelter.  The Agency spokesperson admitted that cats brought to the shelter have a “nearly 100%” kill rate. While many people argue that feral cats should be killed, others, like Lena Woods, believe feral cats should be allowed to live out their lives. The Central Oklahoma Humane Society (Oklahoma Humane) launched a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program in March 2007, to help bring Oklahoma City feral cat populations under control.
Younger cats can usually be adopted out, although this kitten was inexplicably returned after Hands Helping Paws trapped and neutered it. "Now we can't catch it again," says Lena Woods. Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Younger cats can usually be adopted out, although this kitten was inexplicably returned after Hands Helping Paws trapped and neutered it. "Now we can't catch it again," says Lena Woods.
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Through the “Stop the Cattin’ Around!” TNR Program, more than 6,500 cats have been trapped, neutered and returned in Oklahoma City. In May 2012, the Oklahoma City Council approved an ordinance allowing animal shelter staff to sterilize and vaccinate stray, feral, and free roaming cats without an ID and return them to their neighborhoods of origin. In partnership with Oklahoma Humane, the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter responds to requests from neighborhood residents to trap cats, and leaves information about the TNR program at each house on the block where a cat is trapped. 
Lena Woods has gained the trust of the feral cats at the Corner Market. Truly feral cats do not seek human companionship or interaction and are not candidates for adoption. It takes months to socialize a feral cat and while it may bond to the person socializing it, tithe cat will likely regress to a feral state when introduced to new people. TNR is the most humane option for feral cats. Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Lena Woods has gained the trust of the feral cats at the Corner Market. 
Photo ©2013 Lyann Valadez

Lena Woods believes an official TNR program similar to the programs in Oklahoma City could be just as successful in the City of Norman. In the meantime, Lena continues to care for her Corner Kitties in partnership with Hands Helping Paws, doing her small part in helping with a very large issue.

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