The problem with feral cats

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

Humans have had a close relationship with domesticated cats for thousands of years. We know, for example, that more than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians had domesticated cats. We know that because the ancient Egyptians even mummified their beloved cat pets for their journey to the next world, accompanied by mice that had also been mummified.

Early Egyptians even worshipped Bastet, a cat goddess. Bastet was the daughter of Ra, the sun god. Given her position in their ranking of gods indicates the high esteem in which they held cats.

It is likely that the Egyptians were attracted to cats because of their hunting abilities, and the need to control the rodent populations within Egyptian homes.

Cats are natural hunters. They are able to quietly stalk their prey and then pounce with sharp claws and teeth. Cats are particularly effective hunters at night, when their light reflecting eyes and their ability to see objects that are near to them help them to see much better than their prey.

Female cats can breed three times a year and have an average of four kittens per litter. In just seven years, one unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens.

The word “feral” is used to define a cat that lives outdoors and roams its territory not belonging to anyone. Feral cats are the result of a domestic cat being abandoned or lost and left to fend for itself. The offspring of the once domestic now feral cat are usually never handled by people and easily become terrified when they are approached by people.

I grew up in the country and nearly every spring, a female cat and her litter of kittens would be dumped in near our farm. One year, there were more than 80 cats that made their way to our home.

I have no idea how many feral cats there are in Sidney or in Shelby County. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million feral cats in the United States.

Thus far, cats have contributed to the extinction of 33 species and are a non-native, invasive species in North America that have caused severe ecological disruption and degradation. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists cats among the world’s worst invasive species globally.

Cats are the number one source of direct, human-caused mortality for birds and mammals, killing 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually in the contiguous United States. Even when cats do not directly kill wildlife, their presence in the environment leads to indirect mortality. For example, a cat kills the mother bird and the young in the nest die because they are not fed. Another example is the spread of disease such as Toxoplasma gondii to other species of wildlife.

Members of the cat family are the only definitive hosts for the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. Up to 74 percent of all cats will host this parasite during their lifetime and excrete hundreds of millions of infectious eggs into the environment through their feces. When a person (or other animal) accidentally ingests or inhales Toxoplasma gondii, they may experience memory loss, blindness, miscarriage, have a child born with developmental problems, or even die. There is also evidence to suggest a link between infection with the parasite and schizophrenia.

Feral cats are consistently the number one carrier of rabies among domestic animals and are disproportionately more likely to expose people to rabies than wildlife. Thanks to post-exposure medical care, most people do not acquire rabies, but exposure is dangerous and costly (estimated at $3,500 per person exposed).

The Shelby County Animal Resource Foundation (SCARF), the Shelby County Animal Shelter, and the City of Sidney are working together to attempt to humanely control the feral cat population within the City of Sidney. The methodology being employed locally is Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), a process in which feral cats are trapped, neutered and then returned to the neighborhood from which they were trapped.

The first TNR clinic for 2019 is scheduled for the first weekend in February. SCARF volunteers will work to notify the neighborhood where trapping will occur, trap the cats in that neighborhood, and return them to their neighborhood once the procedure has been completed.

While the cats are at the clinic, they will be vaccinated against rabies and will have an ear tipped for identification purposes (so that if they are caught in another TNR effort, they can be set free). Neighbors will be asked to keep pet cats indoors during the trapping and to refrain from feeding the feral cats so they may be more easily lured into a live trap with food.

If you have a pet cat, I would encourage you to keep it indoors permanently. That way, your pet will not contribute to the carnage visited upon the wildlife in the Sidney community.

In addition, I would once again encourage citizens not to feed feral cats. Of the 100 million stray or feral cats that live in the United States, only about six million of them make their way into the shelter system. Only about three to four million of animals in shelters are adopted into homes. Knowing these heart-wrenching statistics, animal lovers undoubtedly want to help their feline friends.

Feeding feral cats only encourages them to reproduce, and you will quickly be feeding more and more cats, only exacerbating the situation. If we cannot bring the feral cat population under control through the TNR program, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.

If you have a location where you would like to see the program conducted within the city of Sidney, please contact the Animal Shelter at 937-498-7201. They need permission prior to placing traps on private property.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.