“The Land Bank wants us to be successful in this effort because the colony at Union Steel has been very well-known and has been a topic of conversation in the community for a long time. No one wants the animals to be harmed, but they want them safely evacuated.”
Selected members of Friends of Albion Animals familiar with trapping cats took turns patiently waiting outside the fence line of the old Union Steel this last weekend in February in hopes of catching the remaining feral cats seeking shelter in the dilapidated factory. The group has been steadily trapping the cats from a safe distance with special permission from the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority. President of the Friends of Albion’s Animals, Cindy Stanczak explained that the Land Bank reached out to them to remove the animals. “The Land Bank wants us to be successful in this effort because the colony at Union Steel has been very well-known and has been a topic of conversation in the community for a long time. No one wants the animals to be harmed, but they want them safely evacuated.”
Stanczak said weather and the early arrival of demolition equipment due to no fault of the Land Bank made the extraction a bit more challenging. The work required hours and hours of volunteer time to patiently see if the cats would catch the smell of food laid out for them in the traps set outside the factory fence line. Jason Strong, the secretary of the group and colony manager, who was one of the members given permission to do this work, spent hours in and around his car watching for any movement of the cats. “For about a week and a half now someone has been here every day.” When he took over the colony last October there were seven cats left and due to trapping now (Saturday) four of the colony are left. Transient cats he explained “will come and go, but these were the last ones.”
Trapping cats requires changing strategy to the personality of the cat. “Every cat is different. Some will do traps. Some will come right up to you. Some it takes fish. Some it takes chicken,” said Strong. Catching cats varies on whether it is feral or domestic. Those familiar with humans are more readily willing to come up and interact with people.
The dedication of the volunteers is evident. Strong and his wife, Adeia, were among the few given permission to do this work. Saturday brought longer hours as their time for trapping was coming to an end by Sunday, March 1. “I started at 5 AM and it’s 4:30 PM. I was gone for a couple hours.” He went on to say, “We have to get these cats out or they will die.” Strong reported that if not for the Land Bank’s help, the other three would not have been removed.
…rescue efforts had also been hampered by random people blaring their car horns scaring the cats away from the food.
Strong said rescue efforts had also been hampered by random people blaring their car horns scaring the cats away from the food. “The ones that have driven by are galvanized. They scream our praises or they scream die cat die or I hope those cats die. It’s good this thing is getting torn down. They come by driving slowly blaring their horns.” The cats get scared and run away from the traps. And yet, people are a part of the overpopulation problem. Strong shared that many of the cats were dumped at Union Steel by people, which is illegal.
The following day the oldest cat and oldest member of the original colony was trapped by one of the members and brought to Christi Vaughn, a fellow Friends of Albion’s Animals member who has a special connection to the older original Union Steel cat and to Union Steel. Vaughn kept her eye on the Union Steel colony around 2009. She caught “the old man” of the colony twice before as part of the trap and release program.
“He stayed with me for six months and then returned himself to Union Steel.”
She estimated he is over ten years old.
“In 2015 he was trapped, neutered and returned. In 2018, I trapped him to try and relocate him in the anticipation of the demolition in 2019, is what we were thinking at the time.” Laughing she explained, “He stayed with me for six months and then returned himself to Union Steel. She estimated he is over ten years old. Currently, he is housed inside, so he cannot escape. “It’s been hard on them. They (cats) have been stressed with all the activity and the earlier icy weather,” she said. He will visit the veterinarian to check on his ragged breathing, but she reported as of Tuesday, he is making better progress and she will search for a barn home for him after a veterinarian evaluates him.
As for her other connection to Union Steel, “My grandmother on my mother’s side, Marie Voelker, worked at Union Steel and retired from Union Steel after 33 years, I think. And she lived a block away and never had a car so she could walk to work.”
“So many of us had grandparents, uncles, or aunts who worked there.”
She has shared her memories of Union Steel. “So many of us had grandparents, uncles, or aunts who worked there.” Her family members were German immigrants and stopped in Albion to visit people from their same German village before leaving for California. Instead of moving on, they stayed because their friends convinced them the jobs were in Albion. “As a child, I would go to her house after school and wait for her to come home from work. She was a welder. An electric welder. I asked her ‘what do you make?’ And of course, during the war, they did munitions type of work. Before and after the war, she made things like racks for ovens. She welded those little bars. A lot of domestic utility-type products.”
The building where the cats took shelter was built in 1915, and as Vaughn stated, holds memories for many, but the building is unsafe for people and animals alike. Krista Trout Edwards, Executive Director of Calhoun County Land Bank Authority, explained the next step the company they hired will take; “They are starting with the abatement of asbestos on the wooden end of the structure which is where the kitties are and then the Consumers disconnect has to happen before demolition can start.”
The area is extremely unstable and dangerous and a reminder is placed on the Land Bank’s Facebook page that trespassing is not allowed.
The area is extremely unstable and dangerous and a reminder is placed on the Land Bank’s Facebook page that trespassing is not allowed. “Under no circumstances should anyone enter or use drones at the property without prior authorization from the Land Bank. ‘No Trespassing’ signs are clearly posted on the property. The building has been vacant for more than two decades and is extremely dangerous. In addition, crews are working onsite. Albion Public Safety will be increasing patrols around the area and trespassers including those accessing the site with drones will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
For the cats that have been saved, they will be relocated. For those left behind, the Friends of Albion’s animals hope the noise scares them away from the building to other colonies.
…about pets “one, do not just abandon them someplace thinking that they will be able to survive. It is not as easy as that. Two, do not put them on Craig’s list.
To prevent situations such as occurred at Union Steel, Stanczak said about pets “one, do not just abandon them someplace thinking that they will be able to survive. It is not as easy as that. Two, do not put them on Craig’s list. I am sure while some people may have found safe and happy homes for their animals through that venue that is also a place where known animal abusers or dog fighting rings will actively seek out for bait animals.” She explained that there is no application process, so there is no way to trace the history of the people adopting the animals. She said the best strategy is to reach out to rescues and shelters and put your cat on a waiting list, if necessary. The best way for a community to protect its pets, Stanczak reminded, “The single biggest way is to get their animal spayed or neutered. A big part of what we do is work with community residents to offer a low-cost spay/neuter option to people who have low income or are seniors.”
Pictures by Sylvia Benavidez
This story is reprinted with permission from The Recorder.
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