Feral cats growing problem for McCook

Monday, April 27, 2009
A feral cat crouches among piled-up wood in an abandoned shed. Later, the cat came down and met up with another cat in the yard. The shed sits behind an unoccupied home in a McCook neighborhood. (Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)

That cute little cat sunning itself on the sidewalk may not be exactly what you think.

In fact, it may actually be a feral cat that lives in the shadows of every town or city, in abandoned neighborhood houses or garages, storm drains, canyons or bushes.

It's a problem every city faces and tries to to address, said McCook Humane Society director Lorie Prestes. Although feral cats are not one of her top priorities -- she listed dogs at large and an animal control officer as more pressing concerns -- it's still a growing problem.

The offspring of abandoned cats or strays, feral cats may look like an ordinary cat but have had little or no human contact when young. As they haven't been socialized by humans, they view people as dangerous and if captured, react violently. Feral kittens under the age of two months can become domesticated, Prestes said, but older ones remain wild and cannot be adopted out. All Prestes can do with those is hand them off to area farmers, who don't want a pet but want to keep the mice population down.

And the cats are prolific. Prestes estimated the McCook feral cat population in the thousands, which seems high until you read the statistics. Feral cats can start breeding at three months of age, according to the ASPCA, and in seven years, one female cat and her offspring, estimated at about 2 kittens out of a litter, can produce a staggering 420,000 cats.

Although some city residents feel sorry for the cats and leave out a steady supply of food, that's a mistake, Prestes said.

That's because it encourages the cats to stay, which results in cat colonies that can range from 15 to 100, depending on the location and health of cats.

The colonies lead to territorial cat fights and garage doors and other areas being sprayed by male cats during mating behavior.

Other problems arise when domesticated animals in the area become infected by diseases carried by feral cats through scratches or fights. Diseases run the gamut from distemper and rabies to fleas and ringworm, she said.

For Prestes, the worse-case scenario with feral cats in neighborhoods are kids who think they are rescuing a "lost kitty," when in fact what they've really scooped up a feral cat too sick to protest. Intimate contact with the cat could lead to the child becoming infected with a disease the cat is carrying, she said, the least of which being ringworm.

Food left outside can attract other wild animals such as raccoons and possum, Prestes added, which will attack domesticated animals if they feel their food source is threatened.

"Cats are very smart and resourceful; they won't starve," she said, whether it's catching birds or finding food in the trash.

If you really care about the cats, the best way to help them is the trap-neuter-return program, Prestes said. With "TNR," a feral cat is trapped in a humane cage, taken to a vet to be spayed or neutered and sometimes vaccinated, then released back into their territory. This curtails the growth of the colony, reduces the fighting and spraying associated with mating behavior and increases the quality of life for the cats.

For the past two years, Prestes has responded to calls of feral cat colonies in the city by setting up "TNR" traps in area hot spots. But lack of manpower and money mean the the results are negligible.

"They procreate faster than I can remove them," she admitted. "But something is better than nothing."

McCook City Council member Colleen Grant has also been keeping an eye on the problem and has been vocal about it for the past few years.

"Before that I was just astounded," she said. Grant said she first noticed feral cats about five years ago, when she drove her car along U..S. Highway 83 one night. Cats were diving into storm drains and running off the highway, she said and the landscape was so full of the animals that "it looked like it was moving."

Grant and Prestes are both on the McCook Animal Control Review Committee and in the future they want to address feral cats more aggressively. For now, they hope people will become part of the solution rather than the problem.

"People sometimes think we're against cats because we discourage feeding the feral ones," Grant said. "But if you're that concerned, use a humane trap, have the cat spayed or neutered, then release it."

In the big picture, "We're never going to solve the feral cat problem totally," allowed Prestes, who has taken her share of verbal abuse from irate citizens on the phone, demanding that feral cats be removed from their neighborhood. Traps only go so far, she's tried to explain.

"But what we can do is moderate it or cut down the population, for health and humane reasons."

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  • What will be done with the feral cats that have mange and distemper?? Eradication is the best solution instead of trying to find a home for them. Only so much can be done for that.

    Health reasons should be on the top of the list. The catch and release program you have is not enough and doesn't solve the overpopulation of cats. With all the diseases associated with these feral cats, who will pay for this?? The taxpayers?? The humane society is fighting a never ending battle with cats.

    I thought the humane society was to rid the city of cat population. At this rate, it will take 25 years for the population to go down. Sort of like beating a dead horse???

    -- Posted by edbru on Tue, Apr 28, 2009, at 7:38 PM
  • I applaud the use of TNR here, but cats must be fed. They are not taught by their mom's to hunt and most of them do not successfully get enough animals to survive on. They are domestic animals and must be helped by us.

    One reason to feed them is to get them to come to one spot so the guardian can see if anyone is new and not fixed. This is how we keep up with catching and fixing all of them. Feeding is the main way to keep the feral cat numbers under control because we see unfixed cats and get them fixed, if cats are sick we have them treated, if there are any problems with the neighbors there is a guardian to volunteer to take care of the issues.

    It is not true that feeding them keeps them around. They stay around because it is their territory and they stay to protect it from other cats. We do not create cat colonies, the cats do.

    Dr. Julie Levy has done studies proving that feral cats have no more disease then house kitties that go outdoors. Also it is very unlikely that a child picking up a sick cat is going to get seriously ill from the cat. The child is more likely to get sicker from being around other children at school.

    Trapping and removing feral cats solves nothing in the long run. The cats in the outlying areas will come in and start the breeding all over again. The only humane and scientifically proven solution is TNR. Also when cats are taken to the city pound they are wild and not adoptable and are killed - this is not humane.

    Feral cats also live good lives. They do not live short lives when cared for with a TNR program. I've seen several colonies with cats in them that are over 10 years old and doing fine.

    It is also less expensive to start a TNR program than to house and then kill feral cats at the city pound.

    So save your City money and stop the inhumane killing and implement a true working TNR program. Then you will solve your cat overpopulation. Thanks

    -- Posted by harrisrose on Wed, Apr 29, 2009, at 4:59 PM
  • harrisrose, neither the city nor the humane society is not trapping and euthanizing (humanely) these cats. Most, but not all, of these people feeding the colonies here don't have the money to spay or neuter the cats as the new ones come in, nor are they vaccinated. They feed them as cheaply as possible. Responsible owners have their pets vaccinated. As a vet tech, I do not recommend encouraging your children to play with stray / feral cats. A frightened cat can cause more severe damage with teeth and claws than any infectious disease (not many are transmissible to humans). But the bacteria in their mouths can put you on IV antibiotics for a month or more, put you at risk for rabies (which we do have in the area). Check my blog for more details on Rabies. The animals that are sick could have something simple or one of the many more serious cat diseases like the stray cat that visited my house, was positive for feline aids (feline immunodeficiency virus which is infectious through bitewounds and shared food/water), feline leukemia or FIP feline infectious peritonitis; all of which are not curable, only FIP doesn't have a reliable vaccine. Wild Tom cats are known for starting fights with pets.

    Probably the biggest reason we don't TNR is because the veterinarians don't have the time and the humane society doesn't have the money. Without a wealthy benefactor, this won't happen.

    edbru, mange may be annoying but fleas are a bigger pest. Most TNR programs do vaccinate at the time of surgery but vaccines are not permanent.

    Regarding both of you, and concerned readers the best method to prevent overpopulation is spaying and neutering your own pets and if they happen to have a litter of kittens, please do not dump them at the park or outside of city limits. Other than the Humane Society (who prefers not to take in feral cats because of liability issues with employees and volunteers), you can also check with local farmers and feedlots, they occasionally look to restock their barn cats for rodent control.

    Nobody said it would be a quick fix. Our civilization is too impatient anymore.

    -- Posted by amystrauch on Sun, May 31, 2009, at 8:41 PM
  • Trap-spay/neuter-release. Feral cat colonies didn't just 'spring up' all on their own. These cats didn't just evolve naturally. Someone took a domesticated cat into their home - then for some (socially irresponsible) reason, - perhaps they were moving somewhere that did not allow pets, kicked the cat out the door. That poor cat only did what any other animal would do - - - it tried to survive. That cat was not a 'criminal element' simply for surviving! At the time the humans 'kicked it out the door' there were no laws to protect the cat. The human beings that see a need and try to fill it as best they can; at quite a cost to themselves, I add, should not be criminalized. Most of them would have welcomed financial help to do the right thing. Certainly the Animal Clinics in my area are not giving ANY price breaks for feral animal spaying/neutering! Society needs to 'step up' and do the right thing. They do not want these animals in the community - well, surprise! Maybe the individuals that have been feeding them aren't happy about it either. The cost, in my area, to have one cat spayed/neutered is AT LEAST $200.00!! So...............These cats need to be spayed/neutered...........the colonies will then just naturally die out.

    This is the ONLY 'humane' way to deal with the problem. Hmmm, So often people forget that humans are 'animals' too. I like to believe that most of us living 'out here' (pioneers) believe in helping one another. I can't stand seeing an individual in distress without doing something to try to help. I hope this issue won't come down to making criminals out of people who have spent a great deal of their own time and money just to try to help a suffering population. There is a tried and true humane solution to everyone's problem here - and it should be given at least a few minutes of thought. Trap/Spay/Neuter/Release.

    -- Posted by Khendersn on Wed, Jul 22, 2009, at 8:55 PM
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