Jackson County

Ocean Springs has a fluffy problem. And it’s about to get one less helper.

Margaret Horton Rucinski hates to give up the apartment she has rented for six years in downtown Ocean Springs, just a few streets from where she grew up.

It’s tugging at her heart, but what’s really worrying her is the colony of feral cats that she adopted — by default at first and then out of love.

“They are so cute,” she said. “It breaks my heart. The world is so cruel. Who will feed them?”

According to the Feral Feline Coalition — a new group that has been successful with its trap-neuter-and-release program and with adopting out young ferals from colonies — Rucinski is the only one feeding this particular colony downtown.

And Linda Cox said the FFC has its hands full right now.

“We’re down to $800 and there’s so much to do. We’ve got at least 1,000 ferals in the city,” Cox said.

The Rucinski colony is about 15 right now but has been as big as 35 to 40.

A woman from one of the downtown businesses started feeding the cats religiously five years ago, on the sidewalk in front of Rucinski’s home. Sometimes Rucinski would fill in if the lady knew she would be out of pocket.

Then about two years ago, the lady stopped coming and Rucinski picked up the task.

Rucinski watched the cats go hungry with kittens and injuries and she said she couldn’t have that. She really didn’t intend to get so attached.

But now they come to her porch and yard twice a day for food that costs her about $80 a month.

Three are injured. One has a stripped tail, one has a hole in its side that might be a draining abscess and a kitten has hair missing down most of its back.

The others are stout and appear to be healthy.

Cox explained that feral cats are often abused by people and other animals. They are vulnerable. That’s why the FFC doesn’t give the location of the colonies they manage.

Working on a solution

“This lady obviously doesn’t have the resources to trap and take them to the vet,” Cox said. “And yes, there are people who hate cats, who abuse or injure them. What they do to dogs is terrible too. But we come up with injured cats pretty often.”

The FFC doesn’t rescue, she said. It focuses on trapping, spay or neuter, vaccinations, treating injuries and managing the colony.

Some of them are incredibly healthy, she said.

“What’s very frustrating,” Cox said, “is we get a colony fixed and people will dump a litter of kittens, because to take them to the county animal shelter, it costs you a $30 surrender fee.

“At the colonies, they just throw them out. We’ve seen them throw them out the window of a car,” she said.

“It’s just massive, the job,” she said. “But I can show you papers on every cat we neuter.”

They use a network of texts to get babies from the colonies adopted into homes before they are too feral to tame.

“Why should these cats be killed?” Cox asks. “The only home they have is this colony. And if we can manage those colonies, it’s not a great, big horrible thing. If we can catch them and stop them from reproducing, we can put an end to the warehousing of animals.”

The city animal control officer helps with trapping, she said. “He has just been wonderful for us.”

But she said, the FFC could use more community support.

Leaving in 70 days

In the meantime, the clock is ticking on Rucinski.

The cute Katrina cottage that she has lived in for six years is changing.

She will move to make way for a renovation of the cottage so it can become a short-term rental.

A master gardener and a retired nurse, she has loved the cottage with its patio and small garden.

She has bird feeders out. A tufted titmouse was feeding on Wednesday, even with the cats scurrying around.

She planted milk weed for Monarchs, a whisker flower for the cats, a bush for hummingbirds, plants from the barrier islands and a night blooming jasmine.

Most of the cats she has named — Lady Slipper looks like a fluffy slipper, Huff and Puff are gray twins and two she calls Tom and Jerry.

A victim of economic progress, Rucinski is looking for a home, not unlike the cats she has been feeding.

She’s confident she’ll find new digs in the Ocean Springs area, but what about the cats?

The Ocean Springs FFC, a coalition of animal lovers

  • Recently raised $1,000 downtown.
  • “Every baby we adopt out comes from a colony.”
  • They spayed or neutered 81 this years.
  • It has 100 members committed to helping find homes for the kittens via a text message system of sharing photos.
  • Membership with boots on the ground is 20.
  • Halloween the FFC adopted out five black kittens and children pledged to be good to cats.

How to DONATE: Mail contributions labeled “Attention FFC” to 712 Washington Avenue, Ocean Springs, 39564 with checks made out to FFC or use the Feral Feline Coalition Facebook page.