BUFORD - Most mornings at 9:30 or so, you'll see Carmella Quinlan walking in West Bank Park at Lake Lanier. If you stand still and are very quiet, you'll most likely see one cat, then two, then dozens come out of hiding and follow her down the path. Some keep their distance and some are more friendly, but they all know Quinlan.
"I've been walking up here for a couple of years," said Quinlan, a Lucent Technologies retiree and Suwanee resident. "They all know me."
There is a problem though.
"People bring cats up here and just abandon them. They're still here. They still reproduce."
Quinlan has tried to work out a solution with the Army Corps of Engineers, the governing authority of Lake Lanier.
"It's called trap, neuter, release, but the Corps didn't want anything to do with it. I didn't want them to pay for anything, just allow me to release the cats back into the park after they've been spayed or neutered," said Quinlan.
But the Corps solution is to trap and euthanize the cats at a facility in Forsyth County, she said.
"I just couldn't stand the thought of these healthy, beautiful animals being euthanized," Quinlan said, so she began to do something about it. She has trapped some of the cats herself and pays to have them neutered. She also pays to have them treated by a veterinarian and then sets about trying to find good homes for the cats. On her daily walks, she feeds the ones that live in the park at six or seven locations along the path.
"Today I walked into the woods, which I don't normally do. But I knew there was a pregnant female up here, and I wanted to try and find her kittens. While I was in the woods, a gray cat came up to me and started rubbing against my legs. I had never seen her before. When I petted her, she purred. I thought, 'Oh my goodness. Someone has dropped you off up here,'" Quinlan said.
"These cats aren't feral; mostly they're just scared. But this cat was so friendly, I knew that it had been in someone's home and around people."
Quinlan took the cat home and again paid to take her to the vet to be spayed and checked for parasites. Now, she'll try to find a home for her.
"I named her Asha, because she's a beautiful shade of gray," Quinlan said.
"I've been getting help from an organization called SPOT with the cost of spaying and neutering, but I pay to have them tested for leukemia, I pay for their shots and their food. I already have three cats and can't realistically take any more," Quinlan said. "Basically, I'm just trying to get them out of the park and into good homes or no-kill shelters.
"Someone anonymously left $10 on my windshield to help for the feeding and care of the cats. One woman brought me a bag of cat food. I really don't want people's money. I want people to give a cat a good home and organizations that can shelter them until they can get into a home. People have created this problem by abandoning cats up here," said Quinlan.
For information about No More Homeless Pets, the Best Friends Animal Society and National Feral Cat Day, which is Sunday, visit www.bestfriends.org/nomorehomelesspets .
To help Quinlan with the cats at West Bank Park, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org , noting "Lake Lanier Cats" in the subject line.