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Nov 3, 2017 3:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Animal Lovers Help Stray Cats In Hampton Bays

Members of the Animal Lovers Club show off the stray cat shelters made from Rubbermaid bins, styrofoam, and hay. COURTESY SOUTHAMPTON ANIMAL SHELTER
Nov 7, 2017 10:44 AM

Ryan Hughes has loved cats all his life, starting as an infant when he would observe his mother, Nancy, feed feral cats outside their home in Hampton Bays.But it wasn’t until earlier this year, when he joined the Hampton Bays Public Library’s Animal Lovers Club, that the eighth-grader first realized that there were most likely hundreds of feral cats living in the woods, at the beaches and in parking lots across Southampton Town, creatures that rely on the generosity and care of strangers. In fact, Christina Vargas, volunteer director at the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays, said she would not be surprised if the number of stray cats in the town was actually in the thousands.

Ryan, who is now 13, and his mother used to care for a pair of cats—Huggie, a Russian blue who was adopted in 2002 and died in 2014, and Morris, an orange-and-white tabby that they took in back in 2008 and died last year.

Though they were welcome inside their home, both cats preferred being outside, which is why Ms. Hughes and her son constructed outdoor houses for them in their backyard. “We even put heated pet pads inside for them,” Ms. Hughes recalled this week.

That is the main reason Ryan jumped at the opportunity to help construct shelters for the town’s feral cat population while researching community service opportunities as part of his application for the National Honor Society at Hampton Bays Middle School over the summer. The teenager learned about the shelter program through the Animal Lovers Club, created by former library employee Theresa Maritato in 2008. It teaches children how to care for animals at an early age while simultaneously assisting the animal shelter in Hampton Bays.

In August, Ryan and nine other club members gathered on the Ponquogue Avenue library’s front lawn to construct five shelters for feral cats. Working in teams of two, the children used hay and Styrofoam to transform 10 plastic Rubbermaid bins—five large and five small—into the shelters. The finished products were then donated to the animal shelter and dispersed throughout the town, according to Vicky Urbelis, who runs the library’s Teen Services Department and helped coordinate the project.

Ms. Vargas, who recently took over the project, said this week that she does not know where the five shelters were placed, only that they are in the town. She also stressed that the shelters are needed.

“I can’t tell you how many calls we get from people unable to care for them,” Ms. Vargas said, referring to those who can no longer take care of their pets. “People will let them go outside in hopes that they will be able to survive.”

That’s where Ryan and his counterparts step in. For his project, Ryan worked with Scott Robinson, who he has been friends with since kindergarten and also lives in Hampton Bays. Using two bins that had pre-cut entrance holes, the teenagers placed the smaller bin inside the larger one, and filled the spaces in between with Styrofoam for insulation. They then secured the top of the bins with zip ties and filled the interior bin with hay.

Each bin took roughly two hours to complete, according to Ms. Maritato. “The kids took it very seriously,” said Ms. Maritato, who still heads the Animal Lovers Club though she now operates her own business called Theresa’s Programs that offers similar events at area libraries.

“I think all pets deserve the proper care they need, and a loving family or a wonderful shelter to live in … ” said Riley Gerson, 12, of Hampton Bays, a seventh-grader at the Hampton Bays Middle School who helped build one of the cat shelters. “I want to help the shelter and all of the animals in it thrive,” added Riley, who is also a member of the Animal Lovers Club.

Ms. Urbelis said the program offered a fun and productive way to increase awareness about the hamlet’s feral cat population. A side benefit of the initiative, she continued, is that it encourages participants to consider adopting a pet as opposed to purchasing one from the store.

She said that, in her opinion, the shelter construction program was a “huge success,” later adding that club members will build additional ones every summer moving forward.

Though they no longer feed feral cats near their home—Ms. Hughes explained that several new homes recently went up in their neighborhood, most likely displacing the strays that had been living in the area—both mother and son agree that building shelters is a way that they can continue to help the homeless animals in their community.

“I would do it again next year for sure,” Ryan said of the shelter program. “Not even a question.”

“I think he learned just how much of the feral population there really is,” Ms. Hughes said of her son. “It opened his eyes that they really don’t have a place to go.”

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wonderful project....wonderful kids....will share this with my library staff...
By native68 (19), southampton on Nov 6, 17 8:40 AM
1 member liked this comment
These felines need to be neutered!!!
By sgt202 (69), Hampton Bays on Nov 6, 17 9:17 AM
Good idea sgt202. A great one. But who is going to pay for that?
By Thewayitusedtobe (5), Hampton Bays on Nov 6, 17 9:37 AM
1 member liked this comment
Can't we just get the kids to do it? They seem invested!
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (4179), HAMPTON BAYS on Nov 6, 17 9:50 AM
OpCat, a group and service through local vets spays and neuteres feral cats. Most HB vets are part of that group. They offer low or now cost services and feed many stray animals. Just don’t try this in Quogue Village as they recently banned helping stray and feral animals and will arrest & fine you.......
By G (324), Southampton on Nov 6, 17 10:50 AM
I don't think you are an animal lover if you directly contribute to the extinction of our local shore birds. Thousands of feral cats vs. an almost extinct population of shore birds is not loving, it is heartless. It is against the law for humans to disturb, injure or kill an endangered shore bird. Why is it lawful to help grow the population of predators? If you really love cats help them without contributing to the extinction of our shore birds, please.
By TheTurtle (129), Southampton on Nov 16, 17 3:27 AM
Hey turtle. You have any stats on the number of piping plover killed by flying sand cats each year? You ever see a feline enjoying a seagull snack at the cooper beach concession? You may be onto something but you’re the first to commence the crusade. We need to hear more!?
By even flow (779), East Hampton on Nov 16, 17 4:25 AM