SUSSEX BOROUGH - Faced with a dramatic increase in the feral cat population, and angered by some horrific acts of animal cruelty, a local couple has launched a cat rescue adoption program. Lori and Stan Walsh of Clove Avenue recently founded C.L.A.W.S., or Cat Lovers Adopt Wantage-Sussex. Their efforts to assist the local feral cats began last year when the couple began feeding a few strays in downtown Sussex. They began trapping the cats and taking them to their veterinarian, who would vaccinate the animals, spay or neuter them, and address any medical needs. "We thought this was great and would solve the problem of them populating," Lori Walsh said. "The sick or injured would have a chance to survive." "Although it did help those ones, the number of cats started to increase," Walsh said. "I guess the word got out in the cat population that there was free food for all. We had a couple show up pregnant, and we were able to obtain the mothers, have them spayed, adopt out a couple of kittens, and keep a few in their home." After the Walsh's home had absorbed eleven house cats, all now lovingly spoiled by the family, the couple decided a better solution was needed. They are now seeking non-profit status. They recently purchased a utility shed to house strays until they can be adopted, and the Walsh's thanked Haggerty's Garden Center for a deep discount on the shed. Lori Walsh said she has discovered cats that have been burned, shot, and attacked by dogs, and she recently placed posters around Sussex urging residents to be patient and not to abuse the cats. The poster promised to remove the strays within two weeks, saying if residents disturb the colonies, it will make the task of trapping them more difficult. Walsh attributes much of the local problem to a large population of renters, who often have to move to places where they cannot keep pets. "Each year many residents bring home these cute, little cuddly kittens, that soon grow to be wonderful cats, which are soon to be forgotten," Walsh said. One large stray colony lives near the Alpine Village Apartments, and another is behind Baker's Pharmacy in Sussex. Walsh recently removed ten cats from behind the Elias Cole Restaurant on Route 23, where they had been fed by staff for many years. Those cats will be treated for any medical needs, spayed or neutered, and returned to their home, Walsh said, adding, "They don't bother anyone there." Walsh praised the restaurant's staff for diligently medicating the cats during a recent outbreak of respiratory infections. Walsh feels that for the most part, feral cats can be rehabilitated, "but it takes time and attention." Those that may not be able to adapt to life as house cats may be useful on local farms as barn cats. And Walsh said a few local farms have indeed agreed to take on cats. She is optimistic that her new organization can make a difference, and noted that while she has encountered many cats that were victims of human cruelty, she has also discovered that there are many other cat lovers like herself. C.L.A.W.S. is seeking volunteers as well as donations of food, bedding, litter, and even cat toys. In addition, the group needs financial contributions to offset medical expenses. Already many local businesses have been supporting the group's efforts, and a few vets have agreed to assist in the spay and neuter program. Walsh said the best way to address the stray population is to strongly promote spaying and neutering and to educate pet owners on the need to control the cat population. To contact C.L.A.W.S., call Lori Walsh at 973-875-8540.