People First of Oregon    

Fairview: The Closing Chapter


WON’T COME DOWN: A feral cat peers down from the branches of a tree Monday at the Fairview Training Center. Over the years, up to 60 cats have made the facility their home, getting food from staffers and hunting mice in old barns on the property. The facility has closed, and one staff member is trying to trap, spay and neuter the cats and find them homes.
TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal
Fairview cats await homes

The facility’s medical director is trying to trap the remaining six felines.

SARAH HUNSBERGER, Statesman Journal

Dr. Joann Icovino was hunting.


Armed with three cagelike traps and a can of bait, she scoured the empty grounds of the mothballed Fairview Training Center on Monday, searching for signs of life.

She wasn’t looking for bears or coyotes. She was looking for feral cats. Her bait: a can of cat food.

“We put really smelly cat food in here,” Icovino said as she scooped a glob of bait, plopped it into a cardboard tray and tucked it inside a trap. “This is salmon and shrimp, and it’s very smelly, so it’s most likely to catch the cat’s nose.”

Since December, Icovino, the medical director at Fairview, has made it her mission to find homes for the stray cats as the institution has ground to a close.

Several years ago, Salem’s Feral Cat Coalition estimated Fairview was home to as many as 60 untamed cats.

To survive, the cats hunted mice and got scraps outside the institution’s dining hall. The staff also helped them, setting out dishes of cat food and water.

One former Fairview worker, Yoko Whitfield of Salem, said she used to spend $80 a month feeding about a dozen cats. She also cooked the cats chickens, and one Thanksgiving, she prepared a turkey.

“Well, heck, they don’t like turkey,” Whitfield said. “Picky.”

The cats can’t be so picky any more. Since the institution closed last month, they no longer have a steady food supply.

Even though most of the Fairview cats were untamed, Icovino has found homes for 11 of them since December, sending most of them to farms. She has more people waiting in line for the next four she catches.

Over the last several years, Icovino also has helped the Feral Cat Coalition neuter as many as 30 Fairview cats in the coalition’s free neutering clinics.

On Monday, Icovino set three painless but secure traps she borrowed from the Feral Cat Coalition.

She concentrated on areas she knew the cats once got food.

“This used to be fine pickings for cats,” Icovino said outside the old dining hall, setting the door of a trap so it would swing shut after a cat entered.

Many of the cats already were taken home by staffers, she said, and others moved elsewhere or died. She says about half a dozen cats remain, including one she calls “Moby Cat” after Herman Melville’s book “Moby Dick.”

“I start feeling like Captain Ahab,” she said, referring to the captain who obsessively pursued the elusive white whale. As Icovino set the trap, a makeshift cat shelter was still set up over an outdoor heat duct, but not a whisker was in sight.

“I would hate to have her left out here, starving, when there’s people who are willing to take her,” she said. “In fact, if I get her, I may have to take her home, possibly, just as a souvenir.”

This article was published by Sarah Hunsburger in the Salem Statesman Journal, March 7, 2000