When Mary Clover drives up to one of the seven feral feline colonies around Bluffton for daily feedings, the cats come running at the sound of her horn.
For more than a decade, Clover has given food and veterinary care to Bluffton's population of roaming cats, which has grown to nearly 70.
"I don't play tennis anymore. I hate bridge, and I don't belong to any clubs," says the 87-year-old Clover. "So it gets me up and gets me going in the morning."
She paid most of the expenses herself until a few years ago, when she teamed with fellow Moss Creek resident Tiffany Weaver. But in recent months, the pair has come to realize they cannot keep up the pace and have enlisted help from a group that cares for feral cats on Daufuskie Island.
Laura Winholt and a team of 18 volunteers set traps and take cats to the Hilton Head Humane Society for its free spay and neuter program, vaccinations and rabies shots. Their effort has cut Daufuskie's feral cat population by more than half since 2006, Winholt said.
The cats are medicated for treatable illnesses, euthanized if they are unhealthy and adopted if they are tame. The rest are released in places where the group has set up shelters so they can monitor the numbers each day.
Routine feedings keep the cats from developing nuisance behaviors, such as rummaging in garbage cans or killing birds. Spaying has meant no wild kittens have been born in four years on Daufuskie, cutting the population from 109 to 46 cats, Winholt said.
But the Bluffton project has proved more challenging than tackling the cat population on remote Daufuskie.
In Bluffton, the feral cats live in high-traffic areas, including the Tanger Outlets, in front of Home Depot and, in the case of one group of cats, in a median in the Kittie's Crossing shopping center off Fording Island Road.
So far, the Bluffton team has caught and released about 20 cats with the Daufuskie project's traps, double what Weaver and Clover had managed to capture in the past few years. But they need volunteers and donations to make a real impact, Weaver said.
Since putting out fliers and announcements, she has received one call for a new volunteer and about 20 calls from people who have spotted feral cats and want the group to catch them.
"I think if people saw colonies of stray dogs, they would rescue them and help them," Weaver said. "It's sad people think cats are throwaways."