Youth volunteers aim to help the North Fork’s feral cat population

Some may think North Fork Country Kids: Rescue and Preservation Through Pedagogy is a mouthful of a name for an animal rescue group, but every word is essential to understanding what the volunteer organization does, according to founder Virginia Scudder.

The organization is mainly focused on cats and works to help trap and neuter feral felines, as well as find homes for stray, feral and abandoned animals. The second goal of the not-for-profit is to promote education in rescue and land preservation.

“Our rescue is all about advocacy, history, and the connection between parents, teachers, students and the animals,” Ms. Scudder said.

The Aquebogue-based group Scudder started about five years ago is entirely volunteer-driven, many of whom are educators and realtors as well as parents and students. Scudder herself is an English teacher in the West Islip School District.

“As parents, a lot of us try to instill the importance of empathy,” Ms. Scudder said. “Which is something we see as educators trickling — diminishing in some ways.”

The organization holds classes and clinics locally at libraries and schools and works with boy and girl scouts teaching children and parents how to trap, neuter, and return along with some history of cats on the North Fork.

Evan Huber, Payton Scudder, Laura Huber, Rebecca Brandsteder and Virginia Scudder at the Strawberry Festival.

“We talk about the feral cat as part of our history,” Ms. Scudder said. “Settlers of the North Fork brought cats over from Europe…they’ve been here since the Puritans came over. The very idea of rescue is about history, how cats fit into history, what it means to [the children] personally.”

The rescue is a foster-based organization and relies on the help of volunteers willing to give their time and energy to the cause, as well as those who help temporarily house cats until they are adopted. The group also lends out traps and helps homeowners learn how to trap, neuter and return feral cats in their own neighborhood.

“If the homeowner is willing, we show them how to [set up the trap], and we completely pay for spaying and neutering,” Ms. Scudder said. “They just have to do a bit of the legwork.”

Because feral cats don’t have any natural predators on Long Island, according to Ms. Scudder, the population has grown astronomically and hasn’t earned them the best rep.

“[Their history] is essential for all of us to understand — otherwise we’re putting negativity on those poor animals when instead we can help control the population and give them a life they deserve,” she said.

North Fork Country Kids: Rescue and Preservation through Pedagogy will be hosting its second Annual Summer Rescue Awards, honoring women in the veterinary community and rescue community, at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead on August 30.

Top photo caption: Chrissy Santiago, Virginia Scudder, Payton Scudder and Caitlyn Malone at Aquebogue Elementary school where the group spoke about pet ownership and feral cats.

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