WOODFORD COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — Eryn Pearson is on a mission to save the cats of Woodford County.
Pearson, a deputy at the Woodford County Sheriff’s Office, teamed up with her friend Traci Kraemer and Woodford County’s sole Animal Control Officer, Heather Leman, to launch a pilot program in August that gauges the demand for cat services.
“Within 12 hours of me launching a Facebook page, I had 100 cats that needed our assistance in some way,” she said.
Pearson’s home quickly transformed into a cat sanctuary. The garage is used as an intake center, where cats are evaluated for parasites, diseases, viruses, and behavioral patterns.
Once they are checked out by a vet and properly medicated, cats are transitioned to Pearson’s basement for socialization before they are considered ready for adoption. The group has teamed up with cat rescue TLC Fosters of Mackinaw to facilitate adoptions.
All of this is done on her own dime. Pearson said she has spent more than $30,000 already.
“As far as food, litter, cages, or housing, that is all out of pocket,” she said.
Animal lovers and Woodford County residents Janye and David Menssen left behind their money in a “Critter Care” trust so animals in Woodford County could receive proper veterinary care. The group is able to tap into those dollars to help bankroll vet expenses.
“We would not be able to do this without the Menssen Fund,” Pearson said.
Veterinarian Matt Fraker, who sits on the Menssen Fund’s board, said the cat program is badly needed. He said feral cats can get aggressive, especially if they have rabies.
On the flip side, Fraker said the Woodford County Board shows apathy towards cats and doesn’t see a need.
“Woodford County is a black hole when it comes to animal control infrastructure,” Fraker said. “I think it’s just an issue that Woodford County doesn’t want to deal with, and it’s sort of out of sight out of mind.”
Woodford County Animal Control Officer Heather Leman echoed Fraker’s sentiments about feral cats. She said above all, the cat program is a safety issue.
“Most of these cats are not healthy, they are sick, they have disease and they are starving, so they are willing to do a lot to get some food, it could def hurt people and other animals in those communities,” Leman said.
To house the ever-growing number of cats, Pearson said the group purchased two modular buildings at $18,000 apiece.
“We’re hoping to utilize these buildings for a more comfortable shelter until we can work a better program or hopefully have a community shelter,” she said.
WMBD reached to the Woodford County Board multiple times but did not get a response.
Pearson said their ultimate goal is to create a visible community resource for “all questions cats.” She said demand keeps growing daily, and they are searching for volunteers and have a donation wish list.
The group was also just contracted by the City of El Paso to help assist with their cat program.