Wildlife: Feral Cats Aren't the Only Problem
Feral cats are not the only animals that must fend for themselves. Even companion animals, including horses, are going without food on their owners' property because of neglect and abuse.
Members of a county animal control ordinance committee learned that during a meeting Tuesday night. The scope of animal control issues widened when the meeting turned into a free-wheeling discussion of the treatment of feral and domestic animals.
Maureen Burke-Horansky, a longtime volunteer leader with Animal Advocates of Moore County, and Corky O'Connor, a longtime volunteer leader with the Humane Society, described the work of unidentified individuals who feed hordes of dogs, cats and horses that are not fed by their owners. Both are committee members.
Their revelations came near the end of a meeting in which the Moore County Animal Control Ordinance Revision Committee heard spirited responses to issues surrounding feral cats. Committee members learned that feral cat colonies exist in towns, with strict animal control enforcement, such as Southern Pines and Pinehurst, as well as in rural communities and towns with minimal attention to such issues.
"I'm sorry that we haven't come to a solution tonight," said Mary Jo Morris, who chairs the committee, shortly before adjournment. "We absolutely have to come up with a solution to these colonies."
Visitors speaking during the public-comment period at the beginning of the meeting made their views on feral cat colonies clear even before the ordinance discussion began.
One speaker, a 12-year-old girl, read a two-page paper covering extensive research into the history of cats and their situation today. At the close of her dissertation, Cassandra Lupkas received a round of applause from the committee and visitors.
There was one proposal that the county pay to have microchips implanted in cats that have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated against rabies and returned to their colonies.
Although this would be a good way to designate safe cats from the unsafe ones, it would be expensive. County Manager Cary McSwain said there is no way Moore County can pay to microchip every animal.
Microchipping is the implanting of an electronic chip into the skin behind an animal's neck. The chip contains a number that identifies the owner, and animal control officers, veterinarians and others who work with animals can scan the chip and determine ownership. Most feral cats that have been neutered can be identified by a nick on an ear.
Feral cats are defined as cats that are unsocialized to humans and have a temperament characterized by fear of and resistance to contact with humans. They are animals that have become lost or been abandoned by owners and have become wild and their offspring. Feral cats do not usually make good pets, although occasionally an especially patient caregiver reports that a feral cat has become a pet.
Several members pointed out that responsible pet owners take care of their animals and must also pay taxes to cover the negligence of irresponsible owners.
The cost of spaying and neutering animals whose owners cannot or will not undertake this responsibility was also discussed.
The issue of feral cats is a two-sided problem.
Although feral cats have numerous passionate friends, they have plenty of enemies as well, along with some cautious public health officials.
The main issue from a public health standpoint is rabies. Rabies is rare in cats, but the most common source of rabies is the wild animal that can infect feral cats.
Feral cats are also disliked because they kill birds and other small animals.
However, the Tuesday night meeting was dominated by friends of feral cats, including several individuals who related success stories about feeding and caring for feral cat colonies.
Arne Halldorson said he has successfully followed the TNR (trap, neuter, release) practice with a feral cat colony for several years.
"The system seems to work," Halldorson said. "There have been no new kittens."
Although feral cats are not generally regarded as suitable pets, Halldorson said he has persuaded three kittens to become communicative and actually took them into his home to become house cats.
Morris asked if he would be willing to serve as adviser to groups interested in helping feral cat colonies, and Halldorson agreed.
Neil Webster, another feral cat protector, described a similar success with TNR. He said the colony had 12 cats in the beginning and is now down to about eight, the others dying natural deaths and not giving birth to more kittens.
"It's a pleasure to feed them," Webster said. "We haven't seen kittens in a couple of years so it does work."
The colony Webster helps lives in downtown Southern Pines.
Lupkas, the 12-year-old with a gift for research, admitted that feral cats can be a nuisance but said TNR is an effective practice to control these colonies.
Lupkas said she has seen for herself how TNR works through her volunteer service with Animal Advocates.
Although cats do catch and kill birds, Lupkas said most feral cats eat garbage or have caretakers who make sure they have food. She said this is the reason feral cats are so often seen in alleys behind restaurants.
"It is also sad but true that coyotes eat feral cats, but I heard about a little boy who was attacked by a hungry coyote," she said. "I guess I'd rather animals eat animals like nature intended rather than be hungry and come closer to my home to feast on my friends, or my dog, Kiara, or cats Wendy, Duchess, Eva and CC."
"Quick fixes like euthanasia don't work in the long run. A TNR plan will show long-term effects for years to come," Lupkas told the committee. "We need to stop living for the moment and manage this concern so that our children and grandchildren don't have to."
Paul Tillman, a certified wildlife control agent, displayed equipment he uses to trap wild animals that are endangering or frightening the public. He is also a full-time employee of Animal Control, and his work with the N.C. Wildlife Commission is separate from that employment.
Tillman said that skunks are the major carriers of rabies across the United States, but in North Carolina the raccoon is the animal most likely to be infected.
Ownership Issue Stalls
The meeting was the second session devoted to the feral cat problem. Also on the agenda was discussion of revisions accepted at the previous committee meeting.
But the review stalled with the reading of the first revision, in a paragraph defining the owner of an animal.
O'Connor raised objections immediately when seven days were specified as the period in which ownership is defined. She called it unfair to the owner, to a potential owner and to the animal to set a seven-day limit on custodial care as the definition of ownership.
She cited a series of examples, including the animal that runs away while the owner is on vacation and the owner does not know the pet is missing. So the pet is not reported as missing, and someone else could take in the dog or cat and claim it as his or her own if it remains with this person seven days.
"There have been husbands and wives who will turn in their pets to be euthanized in the course of divorce proceedings, just as spite," O'Connor said.
Assistant County Attorney Brenda White suggested that the time limit be removed from the ownership definition part of the ordinance. She said that ownership should be defined but it might be better to place that definition in a separate clarifying sentence elsewhere in the ordinance.
State law requires counties to hold a lost or abandoned pet for at least 72 hours before it can be disposed of, either through adoption or euthanasia.
The issue was put back into the hands of legal counsel.
The committee, appointed by the Moore County Board of Commissioners, has been meeting since late winter to review and revise the county animal control ordinance. Committee members have covered every section of the existing ordinance, deleting portions and adding sections to address new concerns. At each meeting they review the work of the previous meeting and do additional fine-tuning until agreement is reached.
The next meeting is scheduled in late May.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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