Woman banned from caring for feral cats at suburban racetrack

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Cats are vital to race tracks. They keep the rodent population down which keeps disease at bay.

A woman who has voluntarily taken care of the cats at Hawthorne Race Course for years has now been kicked out, leaving her baffled and worried about the animals she had to leave behind.

Seven years ago Carrie Gobernatz was approached by a groomer at Hawthorne Race Course who said the cats who live inside and outside the horse barns weren't being taken care of.

So every day after, Carrie would go to Hawthorne, with the race track’s knowledge, and feed the cat. She woul give them medicine, take them to get spayed and neutered and adopted out many of them. Carrie's spent more than $40,000 of her own money in cat food and vet care.  She's helped about 100 feral cats over the years.  Carrie was more than happy to do it.  She said no one else was.

Until this week.

Carrie has now been banned from the race course.  She went to management earlier this week asking for a program to be put in place like one at Saratoga Race Track in New York.  It's organized and funded and the cats are cared for. That's when she was told she could only feed the cats in two places. She feared many of the animals would starve.

But Hawthorne's head vet Dawn Folker-Calderon says that's not the case.

“Every barn has barn cats.  Every trainer is feeding their cats.  Are they being cared for?  Yes they are,” said Folker-Calderon, the head vet at the race course.

Hawthorn's spokesperson Jim Miller says the most important thing is the safety of the 1500 horses and the employees who live on the backside of the grounds.  He says Carrie went beyond the feeding areas and that has attracted skunks and other wildlife  that carry disease and can  endanger the horses.

Miller says six skunks were trapped within the last week.

Carrie is the national news editor for Horseback Magazine.  She says she would never put a horse or any other animal in danger. But now. after seven years, Carrie's services aren't needed anymore.  Animal rescue organizations like PAWS, Treehouse, and RRR Pets have come in to work with Hawthorne to take care of the animals.

“My friends tease me,” Carrie says. “They say why are you doing that? But how can you walk away and let all those cats suffer? “

A spokesperson with Tree House Humane Society tells WGN the three groups will be feeding the colony of cats and making sure they are taken care of.

Carrie says if it took her getting kicked out to allow that to happen, then so be it.  She's just happy someone will there to help.

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