SULLIVAN — Not long after Marie Zwicker became an animal control officer in Hancock County, she began fostering a stray cat she had picked up herself.
That orange cat, Tigger, is still around 11 years later, and Zwicker continues to help stray and feral cats through her organization Protecting Animals’ Welfare, or P.A.W.
“There are a lot of people who abandon their cats, but animals are family members,” says Zwicker. “You wouldn’t leave behind a family member when you move, would you?”
When P.A.W. traps a stray cat, it is fostered with a volunteer, taken to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered and given a rabies vaccination. It is then taken to a no-kill animal shelter in the area. Feral cats that aren’t socialized to be around humans get the same treatment, but are returned to the wild once they’re treated by a vet.
Zwicker founded P.A.W. in 2009, and since then has treated almost 800 cats. It’s a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization funded entirely by donations, and Zwicker calls it “a collaborative effort” with a small groups of volunteers. They include Kristine Guyton of Sullivan, along with Karen Macomber and Lea Lane of Franklin.
In addition to a spaying and neutering program, P.A.W. also uses donations to help animals whose owners can’t afford food or veterinary care.
Zwicker is an animal control officer for Sullivan, Sorrento, Hancock, Franklin, Trenton, Waltham, and some Unorganized Territory.
Because Maine’s animal welfare laws state that animal control officers “may seize or humanely trap a stray cat,” Zwicker sees P.A.W. as a humane way to rescue the strays she finds on the job. That’s a good thing, because Zwicker says stray and feral cats are very prevalent in Maine.
“A lot of people let their cats out even if they aren’t spayed or neutered, and that is a huge problem,” says Zwicker, adding that “cats are domesticated animals. They’re perfectly happy being indoors.”
Zwicker says the biggest challenge P.A.W. faces is the sheer volume of stray and feral cats in Hancock County. She calls herself “a terrible fosterer” because she’s ended up adopting six animals — cats Pooh Bear, Pookie, the aforementioned Tigger, Little Tigger, Finnegan and dog Bo — that began as fosters.
Still, Zwicker wants to emphasize compassion for stray animals and hopes to continue educating residents how to humanely deal with them.
“Killing these animals just isn’t the answer,” she said.