AUBURN – Every night after work, Karl Dostie pulls his truck to the recycling area of Mid-Maine Waste Action Corp.’s transfer station and calls out, baritone echoing through the little valley, “Hey, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

He goes bearing a couple of cans of wet cat foot and a large bag of dry, and the area’s inhabitants know it. Young cats. Older cats. Skinny cats. They all come running.

“During the wintertime things are pretty tough for them,” Dostie said. “So I try to feed them every night that I can.”

The cats started showing up at the facility over a decade ago. Some were from the area. Most, it seemed, had been digging through residential garbage bins when the bins were emptied into MMWAC trucks and brought to the Auburn facility, Executive Director Joe Kazar said. The cats were saved by workers or somehow managed to avoid MMWAC’s incinerator. They bounded off to live in an MMWAC tire recycling storage container and in the wooded area behind it.

“They’re a permanent fixture,” Kazar said.

Various people have cared for the animals over the years. MMWAC customers left food and snagged the kittens to adopt. Employees trapped the cats and brought them to the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society.

One former MMWAC employee saved a sickly-looking black cat who’d gotten trapped in the facility’s garbage pit, Kazar said. She lowered a board into the pit and enticed the cat with food until he climbed out. She named him Pitty and brought him home, where he’s been her pet for nearly a decade.

The cats aren’t the only animals to wander through the MMWAC facility. Wild turkeys and pigeons are common. Workers and the local animal control officer recently saved a hawk that had gotten trapped inside the garbage pit building, Kazar said. But it’s the cats that tend to garner the most attention. Customers often ask if they’re OK, if someone is feeding them.

Dostie, who loads trailers, started feeding the cats a couple of years ago. He has two cats of his own at home and though he was never really a cat person, he felt bad for the skinny, bedraggled animals roaming around MMWAC.

“I see them and, you know, they just seem like they need a hand,” Dostie said.

The cats catch mice in the summer, but there’s nothing for them to eat in the winter. So every day after work, Dostie delivers food to the tire storage container. The animals have fresh water in there and a cat condo and rug that another MMWAC worker had brought for them. Other workers keep an eye on the cats when Dostie isn’t at work, but he’s their primary caretaker. He goes through a box of canned food and a large bag of dry food every week. MMWAC customers donate food once in a while, but most of the time he buys it himself.

One of the cats is obviously well cared for, and Dostie figures he lives in a home nearby and just wanders over to visit. Many of the others seem feral. They looked starved before Dostie started feeding them.

“They’re looking pretty good now, though,” he said.

Skittish, the cats tend to scatter at loud noises and the approach of strangers. Once in a while, one will get close enough to allow Dostie to brush his fingertips over its fur.

Dostie could trap the cats and send them to the local animal shelter, but many are feral and, he believes, unadoptable. He is afraid the shelter would euthanize them.

Dostie recently counted nine cats in the yard. Since then, a couple of kittens have been caught and adopted. Dostie worries the cats will continue breeding in the yard and the few impromptu adoptions won’t be enough to control the population.

“That aspect scares me,” he said.

He’s heard of groups that spay and neuter feral cats and would like something similar for his brood. But in the meantime he’ll keep feeding them.

“What’s the alternative? Let them go with nothing and suffer,” Dostie said. “I hate to see people suffer. Or animals. Life’s tough enough as it is.”

 


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