Kathy and Bryan Stone, founders of Operation Fancy Free (OFF), were guest speakers at the weekly Rotary Club meeting on Wednesday, April 10.

OFF is a non profit 501c3 that believes Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the most humane and effective method for controlling the feral and community cat population in Jackson County.

Their primary mission is to make TNR fully understood, accepted, and practiced in our county.

In 2013 the Stones’ were driving home when they noticed a large amount of cats at a local restaurant. They decided to stop and count the cats, 34 total just in the parking lot. They new right then that the county had a huge problem with feral cats.

Being “cat people” they knew they had to do something so they bought two traps, threw in $1,000 seed money, and began trapping and fixing cats.

In the beginning they would drive to Barboursville to have the cats fixed for $15 per cat, but now they strictly use Ripley Paws.

“The vet at Ripley Paws has literally bent over backwards to help us with this project,” Kathy Stone said. “Dr. Barickman has been our superhero, she comes in strictly to do OFF cats.”

In the five and half years OFF has been in business, they have processed 2,575 community cats. This includes getting them fixed, claws trimmed, ears cleaned and checked for mites, and vaccinated for rabies.

An OFF cat is identified by an ear snip to indicate they have been fixed.

For kittens they use a “two month, two pound rule.” Once the kitten is two months old and at least two pounds, they will fix them.

“With kittens it’s harder to put them back out for release,” Stone said. “For a few years we also did a foster to adopt program, which was a business in itself, where we adopted out 540 kittens to new permanent homes.”

The Stones admit it was too much to keep up with the TNR and foster to adopt programs, so other groups like Fur Purrs Sake and MEOW Cat Rescue have stepped in and taken over the foster to adopt programs.

The Stones have also processed 400 owned cats for people who are feeding large colonies of feral cats.

“We find that elderly people especially will try to take on feeding these large groups and then they become overwhelmed,” Stone said. “We try to assist in any way we can.”

Since they first started OFF, the Stones have processed well over 3,600 cats in Jackson County.

“What we are doing is making a difference not only in the shelter intake, but in the euthanasia rate as well,” Stone said. “In 2013 the shelter had to euthanize 410 cats, in 2018 that number dropped to 142.”

As with any type of business, financing has been an issue for the Stones. They have received grants and accept donations from business and individuals.

Last year they received the West Virginia Spay & Neuter Department of Agriculture Grant, this year they were denied due to some changes in the grant requirements.

“When you have a grant and so much of your program is built into that, it is so disappointing to get that rejection,” Stone said.

Regardless of the grant rejection, the Stones will continue working to keep the Jackson County feral cat population under control.

The Ripley Rotary Club voted to make a $100 donation to OFF and presented the Stones with a check to assist in their continued efforts.

Anyone interested in learning more about OFF or making a donation to the program can contact Kathy or Bryan at 304-531-8710, by e-mail at operationfancyfree@gmail.com, view their website at http:/www.operationfancyfree.weebly.com, or visit them on Facebook under Operation Fancy Free.

In other business:

• The Community Health Fair is from 7-11 a.m. on Thursday, May 2 at the Jackson County Armed Forces Reserve Center in Millwood. Currently there are 51 vendors signed up and their goal is to reach 60 total vendors.

• Denise Toler mentioned the Community Baby Shower hosted by the Jackson County Family Resource Network and Jackson General Hospital will be held at First Baptist Church at 215 Ann Street in Ravenswood on April 25. The time will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Toler noted that the annual JGH Foundation Golf Tournament will be at Green Hills Golf Course on June 22.