This feral cat has been staying in Marilyn Williams’ sunporch for the last three months, and is just now starting to let Williams touch her. Williams started the Marilyn and Friends Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Program and often takes ferals into her own care until she can get them fixed. Submitted photo

If there’s one thing Marilyn Williams hates to see, it’s animals, particularly cats, suffering.

That’s why Williams has been helping feral cats in Pugwash and surrounding areas for the past five years through Marilyn and Friends Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Program.

“I don’t think there’s an area in Cumberland County I haven’t done, except for maybe Advocate Harbour,” she said, listing off Springhill, Oxford, Wentworth, Westchester, Malagash, Wallace, Pugwash, Collingwood, Linden, Northport, and Tidnish as main areas serviced in that time.

“I started mainly because I was hearing so much complaining going on about these ferals everywhere and nobody seemed to be doing anything about them. I almost got the stance from people that ferals are out there to annoy them.”
Over the past five years, Williams has helped spay and neuter feral cats, as well as rehome. The number of cats helped is in the hundreds.

“When I started, I never thought it would come to this, the way it just ballooned,” she said. “I knew it would be expensive to do, and I’m still trying to get money. It just… wow… I started and it exploded from there.”

The plan with the program was only to spay and neuter feral cats. But it’s gone beyond trapping and releasing them once fixed.

“I have been able to find homes for the ones that look like they have potential to be household cats,” she explained. “When I’m out there and come across kittens, if you don’t get them tamed it continues to be a vicious circle.”
With the program becoming more popular and more people reaching out for help, Williams has to take a step back and revisit the program.

“I have to go back to the ferals and strays, and put my concentration on them. I have people calling from everywhere with cats they need rehomed. I do try, but in order to save myself and the program, I need to go back to trapping and releasing the ferals.”

Williams said she’s always been an animal lover, ever since she was a little girl.

“I was always out finding mice and dragging them home,” she laughed. “I was always wrapped up with the animals.”
The former president of the L.A. Animal shelter in Amherst has been an advocate for animals, speaking for them and trying to help as they can’t help themselves.

“Dogs were a focus of mine, but I’ve been able to put my energies into cats. There’s just something about a feral cat when it’s caught…you try to make a connection between yourself and the cat in the cage. They’re petrified and so untrusting. It’s hard, because you know they’re going through a traumatic experience in the cage and you just try to reassure them they’ll be healthier in the long run.”

Throughout the years, Williams has gotten some assistance from the Amherst chapter of CARMA, as well as the SPCA’s spay and neuter mobile. She’s also formed a positive working relationship with the Northumberland Veterinary Services in Pugwash where she takes all the cats to be fixed.

The communities have stepped forth with fundraisers on behalf of and donations to the program as well.

But to help cover costs, Williams had started weekly online auctions. The time involved in the auctions, she said, is detrimental to her health, both physically and mentally, and time – time that could be spent trapping feral cats.

“I’m feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “The online auction is something new and it’s the only way to keep the bills paid without me getting into debt. I can’t do the auction, trapping, gathering refundables, and being out on the road all the time on my own.”

Williams is hoping an individual or group will step up to the plate to take over the auction – with storage space for items, and being the drop-off/pick-up location.

“I can’t continue like this. I’ve put in a good run and I’ve had some time to think. If I’m going to continue – and I do want to – I need to pair back on the things that I’m doing.”

She said she’s not prepared to continue the auction, but admits without the auction, the program can’t survive.

“I’d like to find space somewhere – a central location. Somebody must have space and likes to take photos. They could send the pictures of the items to me and I would upload them. But I can’t store the items anymore and I can’t be the pick-up place. I’m overwhelmed.”

She said individuals and groups have been wonderful in their support so far – donating funds, auction items, food, blankets, towels, and even cages. Many have also stepped up to be foster homes for kittens, and be forever homes. The vet clinic has even kept pregnant mothers who were too far along at the time to be spayed. The recycling depots in Pugwash and Oxford each have an account set up for the program, so anyone dropping off refundables can donate the money directly.

“Every cat deserves a home,” said Williams. “It breaks my heart when they become ferals. We have done it to them. They didn’t ask to fight to live, to fight for a bite to eat. That’s why I won’t accept any complaints about ferals.

“I’m helping one cat at a time. That’s what helps me keep on going when I get discouraged.”

Anyone interested in helping the Marilyn and Friends Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Program can contact Marilyn Williams at 902-694-0089 or musemarilyn@gmail.com, or through the program’s page on Facebook.