Cindy Kugler, an 11-year Freeport village resident, is leading a crusade to save feral cats in her community.

She is one of the estimated hundreds of local participants in the growing international program TNR -- Trap-Neuter-Return -- which focuses on capturing and neutering or spaying cats so that they cannot reproduce before returning them to where they were caught.

Becky Robinson, head of the Bethesda, Maryland-based Alley Cat Allies, said her group brought the TNR concept to the United States from Europe 25 years ago. "TNR spares the cats from euthanasia and helps stabilize and improve the health of the feral population," she said. "It's the best way to care for cats."

Kugler said TNR "has been both interesting and expensive, but it needs to be done."

She and Louise Mancuso, her roommate in the Mews at the Copper Beech complex in South Freeport, said they spend at least $600 a month on food, much of it to bait cage traps used to capture cats. They also get the cats healthy, using a covered area on their property, before they have them sterilized, Kugler said.

"Then, many of the cats are sick and require medication, and we get them all of their required shots," Kugler said. The endeavor has cost more than $6,000 this year, but "people have donated time, money and service.".

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Century 21 American Homes in Wantagh has made substantial donations; All About Cats in Freeport and other organizations have helped get kittens adopted; and Companion Vets in Merrick has significantly discounted its surgery and care.

Leslie Rosen,a neighbor, regularly helps with the feeding, and another let her porch be used for a trap, Kugler said.

Bob Sowers, a Nassau County SPCA detective, said feral cats are a "major issue" that needs more regulation, and the political will to regulate them, like dogs.

Brian Shapiro, state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said legislation relating to outdoor cats passed both houses in Albany this past session and will soon be sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for consideration. It would provide funding for programs that promote TNR.

"Per capita, Long Island has the most active animal protection community anywhere in New York," he said.

Sowers said animal rescuers are often confronted by neighbors who would rather poison or catch and dump feral cats; but he, Robinson and Shapiro said those illegal measures do not solve the problem.

"We sincerely appreciate the efforts of all the people who go out and manage the feral cat problem," Sowers said.

One neighbor, Ellen Zipkin, said she had discussed Kugler's actions with "other members of the community, and I have mixed feelings, so I would not want to venture an opinion."

Other neighbors sounded much like Louis Ciangiulli: "I like the cats. They keep the vermin away," he said.

Pam Brown, a neighbor outside the Mews, said she supports Kugler's initiative.

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Kugler, who has six cats of her own, said she has caught and had neutered about 30 cats and kittens in the past year.

She said she began the crusade because she saw the feral cat growth in her community. "It's a disservice to people and cats to just feed them, helping them reproduce," she said.

Every few months, Kugler says, she passes out a flier explaining the importance of TNR. She says it's "humane and effective at controlling feral cat population growth" and the only practice that works "in managing feral cat populations."

Mayor Robert T. Kennedy supports the effort. "The village has no objection" to Kulger helping feral cats, he said. "She is attacking a very real problem in a most humane way and at her own expense."