Kathy Deschambault is pictured with her cat-trapping equipment at the West Kennebunk Animal Welfare Society on Wednesday.

Kathy Deschambault is pictured with her cat-trapping equipment at the West Kennebunk Animal Welfare Society on Wednesday.

KENNEBUNK — Kathy Deschambault can spend hours in the dark waiting for a feral cat to find its way into one of her gravitysprung traps.

Once the door closes, she will quickly drape a curtain over the cage, calming the animal, which often becomes distressed when she approaches. The cats are bound for the Animal Welfare Society of West Kennebunk, where, if they are healthy, they will spend a few short weeks, get spayed or neutered, and be released back to where they were found.

This is key to managing the population of cats, according to AWS Executive Director Abigail Smith. According to Smith, around 10 to 15 years ago, the shelter began focusing its efforts on becoming “no-kill.” But this posed two difficult problems – the first being the sheer volume of cats that could potentially be brought to the shelter.

Sharon Secovich, who runs the Cleo Fund, an organization that merged with the West Kennebunk Animal Welfare Society and focuses on spaying and neutering services, said that a group of feral cats can create a massive population in a few short generations.

Coupled with this volume is the difficulty in socializing feral cats, which is next to impossible once they have been in the wild past a few months – meaning that these cat won’t be destined for adoptive families.

“The answer to some of this is TNR: trap, neuter and release,” Smith said. “For cats it’s very successful.”

Trap, neuter and release allows the shelter to manage the often exponential growth of cat colonies across York county. But in order to have an effective program, you need to have a good trapper.

Deschambault fits the bill. Recently hired fulltime by the Cleo Fund, Deschambault has the patience that others lack when it comes to catching these feral kittens. After the Cleo Fund received a donation covering a cat trapper for three months, Deschambault got to work, and within those three months she brought 67 cats through the neutering program and still had 248 left to go.

Having trapped about 500 cats by her own estimate, Deschambault has it down to a science. When she receives calls, she prioritizes them based on the number of cats.

“There are always more,” Deschambault said, describing a call she received that made note of 12 cats on the property, which turned out to be 30 when she arrived.

Once she’s surveyed the area, she determines the equipment she needs to get started and tries to trap specific cats from the colony, sometimes going after offspring in the hope that the mother will follow. In one particularly smart colony of cats in Lebanon, she says the mothers will divert the kittens away from the traps.

“The cats just get suspicious,” she said. “They just know.”

And like any good hunter, she has her white whale – a “trap-savvy” cat in that Lebanon colony that she’s been trying to catch for over two years.

Deschambault and the West Kennebunk Animal Welfare Society say that while the feral cat trapping program and the free neutering services have already started to show positive results in the community, they are still in need of foster homes for the cats while they are going through the program, and Deschambault is always looking for volunteers to learn how to trap cats.

Those interested can contact the West Kennebunk Animal Welfare Society at 985-3244.

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