Stray cat blues


Not to be confused by the song Stray Cat Blues performed by the Rolling Stones, Sidney’s stray cat population has indeed, caused many of our citizens to “sing the blues.” In response, City Council has budgeted several thousand dollars over the course of the past couple of years in an attempt to reduce the number of feral cats roaming the city. Those funds have been used to help fund seven Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) clinics. Those clinics are a cooperative effort with the Shelby County Animal Rescue Foundation (SCARF).

As a result of those clinics, a total of 82 female cats have been spayed and 96 male cats neutered. Five feral cats that were trapped were subsequently euthanized by the veterinarian due to their having been seriously ill.

A “feral” cat is unsocialized and tends to be fearful of people. They keep their distance from most human beings. Feral cats are most often found living outdoors in groups known as colonies. The cats in a colony share a common food source and territory and may include not only feral cats, but also strays — former pets who were recently lost or abandoned and are still tame. However, most feral colonies originate from unneutered stray cats.

It is estimated that tens of millions of feral and stray cats freely roam the streets of the United States. They breed rapidly. We have no idea how many actually live in Sidney, but there are a number of known colonies within the city limits.

Each year, one un-spayed female and her mate can, on average, produce up to three litters totaling nine or more kittens. If the female cat keeps having kittens, and these kittens then have their own litters, one pair and their subsequent offspring could produce more than 2,000 free-roaming cats after just four years. Left unchecked, feral cat populations have a negative impact on native wildlife and on public health.

Free‐roaming abandoned and feral cats are non‐native predators. They annually cause considerable wildlife destruction and ecosystem disruption, killing hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, they pose a distinct threat to public health. “Zoonotic concerns include viral (e.g. rabies), bacterial (e.g. Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Campylobacter spp., Bartonella spp.), fungal (e.g. Microsporum canis), and parasitic (e.g. Cryptosporidium spp., Toxacara cati, Toxoplasma gondii, Cheyletiella spp.) diseases.”

While dogs have historically been associated with rabies transmission to humans, three times more rabid cats than dogs are reported annually in the United States. This is due to cats being in closer contact to both humans and wild animals including those that primarily transmit rabies.

Doing nothing about the problem and using ineffective approaches are what have resulted in the current overpopulation problem. Trying to rescue all of the feral cats and find them homes is impossible given their numbers and their limited socialization. Removing or relocating all of the feral cats invites new, unneutered cats to move in and the cycle of reproduction starts again. Feeding bans are nearly impossible to enforce and don’t solve the ongoing reproduction issue.

We believe that TNR is the most humane and effective method for managing feral and stray cats and as a result, reducing their numbers. The cats are trapped, then spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies where appropriate and eartipped. The ear tipping does not hurt the cat, but is an identification method to prevent animal control from trapping the same cat multiple times. After the cats have recovered from their surgeries, the cats are returned back to their original territory.

Because the cats can no longer reproduce, the colony has the potential to decline in size over time.

Spaying and neutering also greatly reduces nuisance behavior. Once the cats are “fixed”, fighting, yowling and other noise associated with mating stops almost entirely. The foul odor caused by unaltered males spraying to mark territory disappears and the cats, no longer driven to mate, roam much less. The cats themselves are healthier and less likely to spread feline diseases.

Three additional TNR clinics planned for 2017 include Aug. 14, Oct. 9 and Dec. 4. Trapping is done in locations based on calls received at the Shelby County Animal Shelter at 937-498-7201. If you are aware of large numbers of cats roaming in your neighborhood, I would encourage you to call so that we can continue to make a dent in the problem.

Animal Control personnel must have the permission of the property owner before traps can be located on an individual’s property. In some cases, we are aware of colonies that are located on private property but are unable to contact the property owner due to the property being abandoned, the owner being deceased or having moved without a forwarding address. We will continue to work to obtain permission to trap such colonies.

You can help by: 1) calling the Animal Shelter and advising them of a problem that may exist in your neighborhood; 2) allowing them to place traps on your property; 3) not feeding the stray animals in your neighborhood; 4) encouraging others in your neighborhood not to feed the stray animals; 5) keeping the lids on your garbage containers closed; and, 6) removing or blocking sources of shelter.

If the lids are kept closed, animals are unable to get inside the current garbage receptacles. However, cats can live on very little food, so even one person in a neighborhood leaving the lid of their garbage receptacle open can be problematic. So too are the well-intentioned who feed stray cats. Feeding cats keeps them coming back to your property and encourages population growth.

With respect to shelter, cats will seek a warm, dry space so they can keep out of the weather. If they are unable to find a nesting place, they will move to another neighborhood. Enclose the area under your porch or deck. Make sure that any shed in your yard is secured, with doors and windows tightly closed.

If you are going to have a cat as a pet, take care of it. Do not allow it to roam the neighborhood. Make sure that it receives its vaccinations. And, because cats can occasionally run away, I would encourage you to have a chip embedded so that when it is found, it can be returned to you.

Finally, I would ask that you not relocate cats to the country. Having been raised on a farm, it seemed that every spring, city folk would bring cats to the country and drop them off. I’m not sure why, but it happened every spring — to the point that one year, there were more than 80 at our farm alone.

Like so many things, if we all do our part, the problem can be solved. If not, the situation will only worsen.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

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