Filbert was the last kitty caught by Eden Animal Haven (Photo: Eden Animal Haven)

After Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott told a KY3 reporter that his deputies were clearing a homeless camp in the woods just west of Springfield a few weeks ago, a woman who had been bringing food to those unsheltered folks (and their cats) approached Leslie Sawyer for help.

Sawyer is the founder of Eden Animal Haven, a cat-only rescue group and no-kill shelter located in Brighton.  

At the time, heavy machinery was being used to clear the property around the homeless camp of trees and underbrush. The homeless camp, which had been deep in the woods behind the Walmart at Sunshine and West Bypass, kept getting pushed further and further out until it was visible to passersby on West Bypass.

This is one of the kittens rescued from the site of a former homeless camp in west Springfield. It will be available to adopt in a few weeks after its second round of vaccinations. (Photo by Leslie Sawyer)

The sheriff had made it clear he wasn’t interested in giving the homeless people time to move their belongings or allowing service providers or advocates to help the campers. What would happen to the cats and kittens living in the woods wasn’t mentioned in that initial TV report.

That concerned woman asked Sawyer if there was any way to rescue the cats and kittens. At first, Sawyer didn’t think her organization could help. Sawyer had never done any kind of rescue at a homeless camp, and her cage-free shelter was at capacity.

But the more she learned about the colony of cats and kittens from the woman who had been bringing them food, the more Sawyer suspected the cats were socialized, bonded and could possibly all be housed in her shelter’s quarantine room.

Then other Eden Animal Haven supporters began messaging Sawyer, asking if there was anything they could do to help.

17 cats rescued — all healthy and socialized

After about a week of planning, Sawyer and a group of volunteers visited the property over a three-day period earlier this month to catch the cats and kittens. 

Several cats eat from a large bowl of cat food.
This was taken by volunteers with Eden Animal Haven. These cats were left behind after law enforcement closed a homeless camp in late August. They will be up for adoption soon. (Photo by Leslie Sawyer)

Sawyer said there were no people left at the camp. 

They hand-caught 15 cats and kittens on the first day. They caught two more using traps on the following two days. 

The 17 felines are all being spayed and neutered, vaccinated and vetted. They all appear healthy and tested negative for feline leukemia, Sawyer said. 

They will be available for adoption in a few weeks, after they receive their second round of vaccinations. 

“They are all socialized. The homeless people, the residents at that camp — they must have loved and cared for these cats,” Sawyer said. “None of them were afraid of people. There were no signs of them being abused or neglected in any way. They’ve obviously been cared for.”

Animals were cared for by someone

Sawyer was told by the woman who was bringing food to the camp that the last person to leave stayed longer than the others because he didn’t want to leave the cats. But by the time Sawyer and the volunteers went to the property Sept. 4-6, he was gone.

“I’m sure it was very hard for them to leave these cats,” she said. “That last gentleman that was there, he was pretty much standing ground. He was not going to leave without the cats.”

This is one of the cats rescued from the site of a former homeless camp. It will be up for adoption in a few weeks after its second round of vaccinations. (Photo by Leslie Sawyer)

Sawyer said she hopes someone who knows the person or people who loved and cared for the cats in the woods will see this story and tell them the cats were rescued. 

“These cats are safe,” Sawyer said. “We are going to find good homes for all of them.”

The Daily Citizen visited the camp in late August and found one man remaining who was caring for the cats and kittens. His name was Lloyd. 

Sawyer is relieved they were able to rescue the cats before the heavy equipment got to the place in the woods where the cats were living. She figures some of them — particularly the young kittens — might have run onto West Bypass nearby and been hit by vehicles. 

Interested in adopting or helping?

The majority of the cats are kittens, ranging between 10 weeks to about 8 months. There were two adult cats about 2-3 years old. None of the cats were spayed or neutered, Sawyer said — but that’s changing before they are adopted.

Eden Animal Haven is offering $50 off the adoption fee for the 17 cats and kittens rescued from the camp. Adoption fee is normally $80. For these cats, it’s $30.

They will all be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, vetted and microchipped.

“I really want to get these guys into good homes,” Sawyer said. “They are going to make perfect pets for anyone.”

Since the cats are very bonded with each other, Sawyer hopes some will be adopted in pairs. She plans to knock off another $30 from the adoption fee for pairs.

This is an empty field where a homeless camp once was.
A few weeks ago, this property just west of Springfield was a forest where unsheltered people lived with a colony of cats. After law enforcement ran the people off and a rescue group saved the cats, the land was cleared of trees and underbrush using heavy equipment. This photo was taken on Sept. 21, 2022. (Photo by Jackie Rehwald)

Eden Animal Haven was created by Sawyer and her husband back in 2013.

They normally have 80 to 90 cats at one time, but are obviously over 90 right now due to the 17 cats and kittens from the camp.

If someone wants to help, Sawyer said monetary donations are needed: this rescue operation (including vetting, surgeries, vaccinations and food) is costing Eden Animal Haven about $3,000.

Volunteers are also needed to help care for and socialize the cats at the shelter.

To donate, volunteer or fill out an adoption application, visit www.edenanimalhaven.org.

Follow on social media: www.facebook.com/edenanimalhaven and www.instagram.com/edenanimalhaven.

Sheriff responds to question about camp’s clearing 

The homeless camp was located in a wooded area just south of the Walmart at the intersection of West Bypass and Sunshine Street — just a few feet from the city limits of Springfield.

Had the camp been located within city limits, Springfield Police Department would likely have been involved and officers would have followed the city’s protocol for moving homeless camps, which was established in 2014. 

Cats and kittens in the woods
A volunteer with Eden Animal Haven took this photo on Sept. 4, the first day they visited a former homeless camp to rescue the cats and kittens who were left behind. Law enforcement ran the people off the property about a week earlier and heavy equipment was being used to clear the property. (Photo by Leslie Sawyer)

According to the city’s protocol, officers give the campers 24 to 48 hours’ notice to vacate. Officers also notify One Door, the central point of entry for coordinated intake of shelterless individuals, assessment and referrals for housing and shelter services. One Door then sends staff and advocates to the camp to offer services and help with moving.

Those steps weren’t taken with this encampment. Sheriff Jim Arnott told KY3 in late August: “We don’t jump through any hoops.”

Arnott declined to speak with the Daily Citizen about how deputies handled clearing the camp or answer any questions sent by email. 

Instead, the Greene County Sheriff’s public information officer told the reporter to submit all questions in a formal Sunshine request. 

The Daily Citizen received a response to that Sunshine request this week. 

To the question about whether or not Arnott would consider implementing a homeless camp protocol similar to the city’s and why or why not, the response said: “The Sheriff is not currently considering implementing a homeless camp protocol similar to that of the City of Springfield.”

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald