SYCAMORE – The signs in front of the house at 330 Terrace Drive, near Ottawa Street, are hard to miss.
The hostile messages accuse neighbors of being “cat killers,” warn people coming onto the property that they’re under surveillance and that the house is for sale for $220,000.
At the heart of the simmering neighborhood conflict is a dispute over feral cats, which can be menaces in a neighborhood – killing wildlife, loudly fighting or seeking mates, and menacing pets. Devin DeRaedt, who lives on Terrace Drive, said stray cats used to be a big problem in the area.
DeRaedt, 52, said some neighbors blamed the residents at 330 Terrace, who they thought were feeding the cats and attracting them to the area. Then one day a few months ago, he said, the problem seemed to go away.
“And that’s when the signs popped up,” DeRaedt said.
Teresa Damm, who owns the house and put up the signs, said dozens of feral cats roamed the neighborhood when she moved to the area in 2006.
“So it was a problem with the cats ever since I was there,” Damm said.
Damm said the animals were a particular problem for her because she has a severe allergy to cats. She and her husband determined that something needed to be done. She said she ended up calling DeKalb-based nonprofit Fixin’ Feral Felines, which traps, neuters or spays and releases feral cats to curb the population. Damm said she has donated more than $700 to help fix the cats.
Neighbors thought Damm was making the problem worse by feeding the animals. But she said the cats already were fixed, thanks in part to her efforts.
DeRaedt said it’s his understanding that the rumors are that people in the neighborhood were killing the cats after complaining about them. Despite what he might think about Damm’s signs, he said, he’s not been involved with the rumors.
“I’m not going to do anything to harm anybody’s animal,” DeRaedt said as his stepdaughter’s cat played nearby in his living room.
Damm said police made her change one of the signs because it was offensive. She said she has been cited by the city multiple times for feeding stray cats, and eventually hired a lawyer before the violations were dropped. Damm also said she has been harassed on Facebook and installed a surveillance system on her property.
Jane Kosek, director at Fixin’ Feral Felines, said she has trapped, fixed and released 400 feral cats in Sycamore, including 200 from Evergreen Village, since she started the group in the area about 10 years ago.
She said 43 feral cats have been spayed or neutered in the area alone with the help of Damm, with only a handful of truly feral cats remaining in the neighborhood.
Regardless of how people feel about Damm personally, Kosek said, all of the “erroneous garbage” that was on Facebook about Damm and the feral cats irritated her because Damm was the one who stepped up financially to help with the feral cat problem when no one else in her neighborhood did.
“I give them kudos, and I think people just need to leave them alone,” Kosek said.
Sycamore police officials and Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang did not return calls requesting comment from the Daily Chronicle.
Damm said her house is not really for sale, but she has no plans to move or take down the signs anytime soon.
“If they want to buy me out, so be it,” Damm said. “But my neighbors are not pushing me out.”