Trap-Neuter-Return programs have logged some successes in Lebanon County since the first program launched in Cornwall in 2019. Subsequent TNR programs have since been enacted in the South Lebanon and Richland areas – but one Myerstown resident is hoping to take the concept countywide.

“We’ve just gotten started,” said Mark Payonk of Myerstown. “We had our first meeting in December. We had another one at the end of January. We have a Facebook page. I’ve been putting flyers out.”

But, while the group’s name – Lebanon County Community Cats – implies a countywide effort, Payonk said they’re not rushing to tackle an area so large.

“We’ve got to start small,” he said.

A TNR program does exactly what the name suggests: Feral cats are trapped, neutered and vaccinated by a participating veterinarian, then returned to the area where they were found so they can live out their lives without breeding and expanding the feral cat population. The cats also have an ear notched so they can be easily identified as having been fixed.

Jennifer Wentzel, who founded Cornwall Community Cats in 2019 and has helped grow the programs in South Lebanon and Richland, said she was contacted by Payonk last fall, and she attended the January meeting to lend her expertise.

“It’s in the very early planning phases,” she said.

“There were people from all over the county at the meeting,” Wentzel added. “There definitely is interest there in putting something together.”

Organizers like Payonk are “still working out the logistics,” she said.

“They are trying to get a Lebanon County initiative going to get as many fixed as we can, everywhere,” added Dana Moyer, a founder of the Richland program.

Getting started

Payonk said his first experience with a TNR program was in Richmond, Virginia, where he used to live.

“I volunteered for an organization called Operation Catnip,” he said. “We’d do 70 to 80 cats each month. That was my start with this.”

In Lebanon County, Payonk said he was contacted last fall by Megan, an employee at Althouse Nursery. Megan said they had been struggling with “a feral momma cat” that was “producing multiple litters every year.”

According to Megan, “With Mark’s help I was able to trap and get the mother fixed through the Humane Society of Lebanon County. I was (then) successful in trapping the kittens, and with Mark’s connection with the Nobody’s Cat Foundation, a TNR organization located in Camp Hill, all the kittens were spayed and neutered.

“He made a few trips to Camp Hill to transport these kittens to get spayed/neutered. This was very time consuming but necessary to reduce the county’s population of free-roaming cats in a humane and sustainable way.”

Megan said she is “very thankful for all the help and support I got from Mark,” and she hopes “that more people can get involved, by volunteering their time in helping to trap, transport and talking to people about the benefits of TNR.”

Payonk said he has volunteered at Nobody’s Cats, “but there was nothing here in my local area to get feral cats fixed.” He heard about Cornwall Community Cats and that it would be great to mimic the concept on a larger scale.

He’s hoping to work with local veterinarians who will perform the surgeries at a discount, as well as municipalities he hopes will provide vouchers to assist with the cost. He’s also hoping some local businesses might chip in as program sponsors.

“I really think we want to start small. Maybe Myerstown is where we begin,” he said. “But if we had a larger area, maybe we could get more vets involved.

“But if we go too big we’re going to be inundated. We don’t have too many volunteers yet.”

Collecting data

Payonk noted that he hasn’t approached county officials to seek broader support for the program.

“I want to be able to collect the data to show them that it works,” he said. “I want to see if we can locate small areas of feral cats, work on them, and then move on from there. … Let’s get some success stories first.”

He also hopes to acquire 501c3 nonprofit status for the program, but only after he has enough volunteers involved to keep the program moving forward. Currently, he said, he has “only a handful” of active volunteers.

But he firmly believes a TNR program is the best solution for Lebanon County’s feral cat populations.

“If you don’t address the problem and fix the cats who keep getting pregnant, you will always be inundated,” Payonk said.

Payonk noted that he fosters cats for the SPCA, but “hundreds of them come in … and I get tired.”

“It’s not like there will never be kittens for people to adopt. But you can’t handle hundreds or thousands at a time,” he said. “I mean, kittens can have kittens.”

For more information on the countywide TNR effort, visit Lebanon County Community Cats on Facebook.

“The interest definitely is there,” Wentzel said. “It would be wonderful if over time the countywide initiative could grow.”

“Anything like this, it takes time. You have to find the volunteers, get the right processes in place – it’s not an overnight thing,” she added. “But we would definitely see a difference in the county.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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