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Deadline set for fairgrounds cat colony’s removal

One of the cats that stay down near the fairgrounds. (Photo Provided)

The Friends of Forgotten Felines have a week before all the stray cats at the Washington County Fairgrounds have to be removed.

Brenda Poynter received a certified letter on Monday from the Washington County Fair Board saying the FFF had 10 days to remove the cats. If they were not removed, they would become the property of the Washington County Agricultural and Mechanical Association, who would then take the cats from the fairgrounds. The letter was signed by Kurt Bohlen, fair board president; Brian Barth, vice-president; Lisa McLish, secretary; and Candy Nelson, treasurer.

The group has taken care of the cats at the fairgrounds for about six years, including feeding, spaying or neutering the felines.

“We got a call from the vet and just paid $150 for a kitten who is not doing too well,” Poynter said.

The Friends started a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and have about 21 volunteers who take care of the 35 cats.

“They are well fed and healthy. We just spent $500 on Revolution flea and tick medicine for them,” she noted. “We put our hearts and souls into these cats.”

When Poynter started helping the cats, there were hundreds of them, many of them sick and dying. After calling the mayor and health department, she learned there were no laws to protect them.

“Someone had to do something, and that someone ended up being me,” she said.

A shelter was built, along with feeding tables to keep the food away from skunks and rodents. The cats are fed “high quality dry and wet food.” They are fed about 25 cans of wet food a day.

She said years ago, she talked to the fair board and got permission to take care of the cats. She was given an area where they could be fed and sheltered and the number of cats were finally gotten under control.

“All the cats in there are the original cats,” she said. “One is 20 years old. He’s an icon because he looks like a lion.”

The goal was to get as many cats adopted from the area as possible. The ones at the fairgrounds are not adoptable.

“They are not feral cats. You can pet them,” she said. “But if you walk up to them, they will probably run and hide.”

The second barn was the house for 13 cats who have been there 12 or 13 years. They belonged to a lady who had horses at the barn, Poynter said. When the woman moved out of the barn, she said the Friends would have to feed the cats. They didn’t want two colonies, so they tried to integrate the two. It didn’t work, so the Friends went to the fair board to ask if they could build a feeder at the barn. They were told no.

“We’re not going to leave the cats to starve,” Poynter said. “We called (Washington County dog warden) Kelly McGilton and she said they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t stop us from feeding the cats.”

At a following fair board meeting, they voted unanimously to build the barn cats a feeder. A private donor paid to have it built and it was placed at the barn on July 9.

“Then on Monday, I get this paper saying we have to remove all the cats in every area of the fairgrounds in 10 days,” Poynter explained. “Those aren’t my cats. We’ve just been caring for them. The only ones left are ones that were born there and have been there for years.”

The Humane Society of the Ohio Valley isn’t able to take the cats, as they aren’t able to be caught and crated.

“We haven’t talked to anybody (from the fair board) since we got the paper,” she said. “All we know is 10 days to get the cats out of there.”

Their attorney, Anita Newhart, is filing an injunction to have the cat removal stopped, Poynter said.

In the letter, which Poynter posted to her Facebook page, it said “the board has consulted with its liability insurance carrier, Prosecuting Attorney Nicole Coil and Game Warden Kelly McGilton concerning the cats and the association’s responsible and liability concerning the cats.”

“After consulting with its liability insurance carrier, the Washington County Prosecuting Attorney and the Game Warden, the directors have voted to remove the cats from the property located at 922 Front Street, Marietta, Ohio, owned by the Washington County Agricultural and Mechanical Association.”

Both Coil and McGilton, who is not the game warden, refute these claims.

“We do not represent the fair board and I did tell them that,” Coil said Wednesday. “They told me their issues and problems with the cats.”

She told the board she was happy to talk to McGilton to see if something could be worked out. Coil said McGilton was going to talk to the humane society, but hit a dead end, as they were full up with cats.

“We came to the conclusion that if the Friends of the Felines own the cats, a letter could be sent saying if these are your cats, they request they make other accommodations within a reasonable amount of time,” Coil said. “If not, then we’ll consider they are trespassing and will take appropriate steps to remove them from the property.”

She had not seen the letter, but says she told the board a reasonable amount of time, not specifically 10 days.

McGilton was unavailable for comment, but a recent post from her on Poynter’s Facebook page said “for the record, the fair board never ‘consulted’ with me in reference to this issue. If they had, they would have gotten my title correct.”

“I understand how things work, but it’s not OK for these board members to bypass the proper channels or to fabricate something to fit an agenda,” the post reads.

Coil said there is a potential liability issue, as someone could get hurt if a cat darts out in front of them on the trail.

“I never heard back about what the liability carrier said,” she noted.

Poynter said their big complaint is that people feed the cats on the trail. Signs have been put up in the past, but are torn down. Marietta Mayor Josh Schlicher put up new signs warning people about feeding the cats, which has seemed to help.

“He came down to see us and discovered how it was,” Poynter said. “People (fed the cats) while we were standing there talking to him.”

She said people feeding the cats on the trail may feel they are doing a good thing, but they are being fed regularly.

“And bicyclists have to dart to not hit them,” she added.

Poynter said she is disappointed by how things have turned out with the cats.

“I can’t see animals suffer, that’s how I got into this,” she said. “The junior fair teaches kids how to care for animals, but they want to get rid of the cats.”

Messages left for Bohlen and Barth, fair board vice-president, were not returned Wednesday.

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