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July 12, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
A gray cat with bright yellow eyes sits on the concrete steps that once led to his home. Christina McCullen, 53, saw Elton waiting for his owner to return weeks ago. He was left behind at the former Columbia Regency mobile home park.
Residents were asked to leave the mobile park last September after the Regency of Missouri filed a request to rezone the property the month before. During the rezoning process, Aspen Heights, a company from Texas that builds student housing, also submitted a request to buy the land if the park were rezoned for apartment housing.
Unhappy about being ousted from their residence, the displaced tenants tried to fight to keep their homes, but they were evicted by the time Columbia Public Schools went on summer break at the end of May. A suspicious fire took place May 13 after the utilities had been disconnected for two months.
During the move, many of the mobile park residents were forced to leave their animals behind because most places require a pet deposit the residents couldn’t afford. As demolition of the trailers began, cats were still roaming around the mobile park located off Nifong Boulevard.
“Nobody seemed too concerned, and I think that’s really heartbreaking,” Alyce Bader-Cooley, secretary and board member of No Kill Columbia, says. “None of the surrounding neighborhoods want 30 or 40 cats running around, so we took it upon ourselves.”
McCullen, president of Spay, Neuter and Protect, Bader-Cooley and Valerie Chassin, executive director of Columbia Second Chance, decided to create the Regency Cat Fund. Its mission is to finance the rescuing, neutering, vaccinating and medical testing of the cats who were left behind.
Using humane box traps to lure the felines in with sardines or cat food, the volunteers have been able to remove 29 of them from the park so far. However, McCullen says there are still approximately 10 of them there.
After taking the cats in, they are dispersed to the Spay and Neuter Clinic in Sedalia, Central Missouri Humane Society, Horton Animal Hospital-Northeast and Columbia Second Chance to get their rabies shots if needed. They are also vaccinated, treated for their wounds if they have any and tested for feline leukemia. SNAP then ensures the more domesticated cats get adopted and feral ones relocated to barns.
As the volunteers alternate feeding and trapping, they become more attached to the cats. McCullen decided to stick with a theme while naming the felines.
“They’re all named after singers,” McCullen says. “We have Donna Summer, Fiona Apple, Bieber, McCartney, Lennon, Ringo Starr — 40 names, essentially.”
The Regency Cat Fund put on a bake sale at Café Berlin on June 9 and raised $946 from the sale and monetary donations. It will need approximately $3,000 more in order to spay and neuter all the cats and to find them places to live.
Among the cats that have not been trapped, Elton is one of them. He hides behind bushes next to where his trailer used to be, but McCullen says she is not giving up on Elton and continues to lay traps.