Feral cats are rehabilitated into kitties with purpose

by: TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Dana Lionel, founder of Oregon Cat Project, traps feral cats and then rehabilitates them as barnies which can be helpful as mousers on farms, commercial buildings and more.Because of their agility and ability to land on their feet from falls, cats are said to have nine lives. That may be the case for domesticated cats; those which have plenty of food and an owner’s warm lap to curl up in for a nap.

A feral cat lives a different life than its domesticated cousin, one with a much shorter lifespan. Born in the wild, feral cats must rely on their natural instincts for food, shelter and safety from predators, disease and traffic.

According to Dana Lionel of the Oregon Cat Project, feral cats represent a portion of the cat population that is overlooked and misunderstood. She has made it her mission to rehabilitate feral cats and turn them into “barnies,” cats with purpose.

Born in the wild, feral cats may be the first or later generations of strays, which are domesticated cats that have been abandoned. Because strays and ferals have not been spayed or neutered, the population grows quickly. Lacking human contact, they don’t know how to behave around people and are regarded as a nuisance in the neighborhoods they infiltrate. Most often they are captured and then euthanized.

“They aren’t given the time to decompress,” Lionel said. “But they can be rehabilitated. It’s all based on mutual respect. They may hiss and swat at you, but it just takes time.

“I truly do not believe it’s in their nature to be feral. I think they are abused, and 80 percent of them can be turned around if people would give them an opportunity.”

Lionel hasn’t always loved cats. It was Mr. Mittens, a cat her son brought home from a shelter at which he volunteered, that turned her heart. She began volunteering at the shelter too.

“I didn’t consider myself a cat person,” she said.

Mr. Mittens had an extraordinary effect on Lionel. After she moved to Lake Oswego she continued work at the Cat Adoption Team. Then, in 2010, she founded The Oregon Cat Shelter, located in Lake Oswego. The shelter is a no-kill adoption and advocacy center that offers free adoptions, a cat food bank, micro-chipping services and medical care for cats. Recently a thrift shop was added to the center, which will provide funds to support the programs.

As for the “barnies,” Lionel personally traps the feral cats and then brings them into the safety of her home for rehabilitation. It takes her about a month to calm the cats so they can be placed as barn cats at farms, horse barns, vineyards and commercial buildings.

“Wherever there is a threat of rodents, barnies can be used,” Lionel said. “Horse barns are a natural place for them. Mice are attracted by the oats and the barnies can keep the mice out.”

She said barnies know when they are safe.

“They don’t want to be with you (like a domesticated cat),” but they do want a better quality of life,” Lionel said.

The space Lionel currently has at 342 B St. in Lake Oswego is not large enough for all she wants to do. She plans to build a cat sanctuary which could house a spay and neuter clinic, feral rehab program, veterinary care facilities for cats with leukemia and other specialty disease.

To learn how you can help, visit To adopt a cat or a barnie or make a donation, call Lionel at 503-816-5149.

By Barb Randall
Staff Reporter
503-636-1281 Ext 100
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