REDMOND, Ore. - When Tom Wright moved into his home four years ago on Southwest 24th Street in Redmond, he had no idea he'd soon be feeding about 30 homeless cats.
"In no time at all, it overwhelmed us," Wright said on Saturday. "I was just at the point where I was ready to panic, because each one of these cats had at least six kittens and then the kittens had kittens."
He said the neighborhood had a problem with a feral cat colony long before he moved in.
Wright said he didn't want to see the cats starve, so he begun feeding them. He said he even started getting some of the cats spayed and neutered.
While it's a serious problem, Wright said he's more frustrated with how other neighbors might be dealing with the issue.
"We found about six cats that were poisoned," Wright said. "They were violent deaths. The cats would start staggering, walking around and vomiting, and violent vomiting."
BrightSide Animal Center Executive Director Chris Bauersfeld said officials with the Bend Spay and Neuter Project confirmed that at least one of the cats recovered from the neighborhood was likely poisoned.
"They did have a cat brought in yesterday (Friday) that looked like it had been poisoned," Bauersfeld said.
Now, volunteer cat-trapper Margarita Callejo is trying to get the cats off the streets and to safety.
She said so far about six cats have been found dead, and about 20 cats and kittens have been rescued.
"This poisoning thing is not a quick thing -- it's pretty evil," Callejo said.
She said she sees large cat colonies throughout Central Oregon, noting a case of about 100 feral cats in a La Pine neighborhood.
"If you're going to feed them, you need to spay and neuter them," Callejo said. "It's so critical to keeping the numbers down, and keeping your neighbors happy."
NewsChannel 21 spoke with Redmond police on Saturday. Officers said they had received a call in the area about some orphaned kittens, but that nobody had stepped forward to report any cats being poisoned.
Callejo said cats can get pregnant when they're still nursing.
"They're just little baby-making machines," Callejo said.
Bauersfeld said frustrated neighbors often will take matters into their own hands, as feral cat populations explode near their homes.
She said it's sadly not uncommon for people to poison or shoot homeless cats.
"This is not the way to deal with this problem," Bauersfeld said. "When you eliminate a cat, another cat comes in to take that place. What keeps the population stable, and then starts to decline the population is a very good trap, neuter and release program."
She said there are an estimated more than 10,000 homeless cats in Deschutes County, and many of them live in Redmond.
Bauersfeld said a new coalition was recently formed to tackle the problem.
The Central Oregon Cat Alliance is a partnership between Bright Side Animal Center, the Humane Society of Central Oregon and the Bend Spay and Neuter Project.
The trio recently was awarded more than $10,000 from the county to spay and neuter feral cats.
"What we're finding is what we call 'community cats' which are cats that are friendly," Bauersfeld said. "They have possibly had an owner in the past, but they no longer have an owner."
The Central Oregon Cat Alliance plans to start trapping the cats within the next couple weeks.
"We're targeting about 1,500 cats and kittens within this next year to spay and neuter and return them to their areas," Bauersfeld said. "And each year, we will be tackling more and more."
In the meantime, Wright is trying to help where he can -- raising six of the neighborhood's orphaned kittens until they're ready for new homes.
"I hate to see things suffer," he said.
Redmond police ask people who suspect cats might be getting poisoned or shot to call them at (541) 504-3400.
Many of the rescued cats from Wright's neighborhood are being cared for by the Cat Rescue, Adoption and Foster Team (also known as CRAFT) out of Tumalo.
Officials with the rescue say they're in desperate need of cat and kitten food, kitten formula, litter and money to care for the cats. You can reach them at 541-389-8420.
Other resources, including where you can get your animals spayed and neutered at a low cost, include the Bend Spay and Neuter Project. You can reach them at (541) 617-1010.
The Central Oregon Cat Alliance is currently looking for volunteers to help with efforts to trap feral cats. You can contact the organization at 541-241-8895. More information about the alliance is at http://www.coca2020.org/