Deb Samson is on the frontlines of a daily struggle. She is a founder of the Friends of Windsor Animal Care and Control which has been working for more than three years to help people keep their pets in their home. Whether from job loss, foreclosure, having to move where animals aren't allowed or welcome, or for struggling on fixed incomes in a world where prices for practically everything keep rising, Samson said the need is great.

"There is such a need for assistance with these tough economic times, with people laid off, unemployment benefits running out and so many foreclosures," Samson said. She helps the people she can. Still she struggles to keep up with calls for supplemental food supplies. FWACC tries to provide two weeks' worth of dry and canned dog and cat food to Windsor residents in need. They also try to help with cat litter, a big expense she said. But she knows from the desperate calls that her deliveries are more than supplemental.

What East Haddam Animal Control Officer Michael Olzacki has noticed is that dogs are getting dropped off in the state forest all year round. "It used to be spring and fall," Olzacki said. "Now it's any time of the year, any sex. There's no trend, there's just more and more." Years ago pit bulls were the predominant drops. Now there is a wider variety of dogs. There was an uptick in surrenders in January through April, but it has lessened with the summer months. "Times are tough," he said. "We do the best we can."

Cats are a different story. Most ACO's don't get involved with them unless they are sick or injured. But in many cities and towns, feral cat colonies are leading to micro-explosions in the cat populations. That's where shelters have to fill the gap. Thompson veterinarian Dr. Jill Le deals more with rescue groups than animal control. "A lot of times funding is limited with animal control and they can't do too much," Le said. "For the most part shelters step in and help."

Shelters are necessary because of the way society treats cats, according to Russell Bergeron. He started Feral Cats of East Windsor, Inc. "People call the animal control officers about stray dogs," he said. "They don't care about stray cats. People would never leave a dog behind, but they leave cats behind all the time. We have to stop thinking that cats are like shoes."

Bergeron got involved after he and his wife tried leaving food out for their cat that had gone missing. They hoped the food would lure the cat back to the house. It didn't. Instead it brought three strays to their door. That spring, those three strays brought six kittens with them.

"By the time I learned what you needed to do with feral cats there were 17 in the back yard," Bergeron said. "If I did nothing there would have been 50." What Bergeron did was trap all the cats, have them spayed or neutered and returned to the area from which they came.

Bergeron's dilemma is one that's increasingly common across the state. One unspayed female cat, her unneutered male partner and their offspring can yield 12 cats in one year, 67 in two years, and 376 in three years. Those staggering numbers and the fact that cats are efficient breeders and are fairly successful living in the wild have led to the creation of trap, neuter, release programs, some funded by the state's Department of Agriculture. "TNR is cheaper than euthanizing," Bergeron said. It also addresses complaints about the noise, disease and nuisance feral cat colonies can create.

Some towns have adopted ordinances to help with cat overpopulation where fees and fines are funneled into education and neuter assistance programs. Mansfield ACO Noranne Nielsen has never had to give out a fine her town's ordinance levies. She gives them a notice to comply with a due date. She's never had to issue a ticket. "At the end of day, especially if you educate people, they will do right thing," she said.

Samson would like to see more educational programs. "We need to start educating our young that there is a responsibility to owning animals," she said.