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City woman takes stray and feral cat problem into her own hands

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OGDENSBURG — When Melissa Lucas, Ogdensburg, saw a posting by a Facebook user on a garage sale page about a sick and injured kitten found behind Pizza Hut, 1010 Paterson St., she immediately took action to try to save it.

“Many people were posting with good intentions, but no one was looking at the whole picture,” Ms. Lucas said. “I stepped in, and we went out to find the kitten.”

Ms. Lucas took the kitten, which she named Tuffy, to Town & Country Veterinary Clinic, 904 County Route 4. But by time she reached the clinic, Ms. Lucas was too late. The 2-month-old kitten’s injuries, made worse by maggots, were too difficult to treat. Tuffy died the next morning.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said.

But out of tragedy came hope. Ms. Lucas vowed to help the other kittens and cats nearby that were also feeding from the dumpster behind the restaurant.

Ms. Lucas has started her own animal rescue called Hands Helping Paws out of her home in honor of Tuffy. Her goal was to catch 10 to 15 cats by December and have them medically treated by the St. Lawrence Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6718 Route 68, and sterilized by the non-profit Spay/Neuter/Now, Hammond. She is hoping to trap her first two cats by Aug. 29.

She has accepted a few donations of litter boxes and cat carriers to help get her started.

“I have friends volunteering their time to help trap and care for the animals, too,” she said.

Ms. Lucas said it can be tough collecting and housing all the cats, most of which are feral.

With the help of willing friends, Ms. Lucas can house up to six cats at a time.

To care for each of the cats, Ms. Lucas is paying out of her own pocket. The cost of spaying or neutering, vaccinating and administering flea control medicine for each cat can cost up to $45.

By October, Ms. Lucas hopes her rescue will achieve official nonprofit status so she can begin accepting donations.

Ms. Lucas said she has always had a passion for helping animals and is currently studying for her veterinarian technician certification.

“If we were hurt, we would go to the hospital or somebody would help us,” she said. “But if a cat is sick, many people just shrug shoulders and say, ‘It’s just a cat.’ That’s not right.”

This is not Ms. Lucas’s first time rescuing cats and animals.

“I have had past experience doing the same thing in Florida,” she said. “But this is different than Tampa. There are not as many rescues up here.”

The abundance of feral and stray cats is a huge problem in the city and across the country, she said.

“The SPCA doesn’t have the time or the support to manage populations,” Ms. Lucas said. “They have to care for several dogs and cats at a time. They need people to help out to do something about the strays and feral issue.”

In the next few years, Ms. Lucas hopes to build a kennel for the cats.

“I definitely see this growing,” she said. “I am starting small and dreaming big.”

For more information about the Hands Helping Paws, visit facebook.com/hhprescue.

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