Skip to comments.Feral Frenzy
Posted on 08/12/2002 5:37:34 PM PDT by Glutton
Eugene's wild cat population is growing,
but is killing them or caring for them the best solution?
By Jacquelyn Lewis
Katrina Holmes and Jared Kahn (above) have been busy feeding the homeless for the past year. A well-worn path leads to the door of their small apartment, where weary feet tread every morning and night, in search of food, water and perhaps a little love.
In between feedings, you can find the likes of Zion, Sunshine, Snow and Moon lounging in the bushes or stretching their bodies in the sun. Just like any other homeless population, the cats have hard lives, but they seem oblivious that their very existence may be in danger.
Their caretakers, Kahn and Holmes, residents of the Devonshire Hills apartment complex in west Eugene, are participating in the Trap-Neuter-Release program (TNR) — a worldwide effort aimed at trapping feral and stray cats so they can be neutered, receive medical attention and be released back where they were found. Participants of the TNR program often provide food and makeshift shelters for the cats as well.
The pair became involved with the TNR program after moving to the apartment complex last year. They saw hungry stray and feral cats roaming the grounds on a regular basis.
According to the complex's general manager, David Frank, there are about 50 stray and feral cats on the property. Although Frank has only managed the complex since October, he says he has spoken with previous managers about the feral cat population. "It's been a problem for many years," he says.
|Feral cats can be defined
as "the offspring of
domesticated house cats
who have been abandoned
or who have gotten lost
while searching for mates.
Feral cats often band together
in colonies and continue breeding."
Kahn and Holmes say the number of homeless cats on the property is closer to 25, and they go through at least 18 pounds of dry cat food and a case of canned cat food every month in their efforts to stabilize the population. So far, they have spayed and neutered 17 of the cats through the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO) and its TNR program. "It's slowly but surely," says Holmes.
"It's very difficult, time-consuming and costs money," wrote Kahn and Holmes, "... we are dedicated to helping this population, as they are like a family to us, and to many others in this complex." Their driving force is simple: "We love these cats," says Holmes.
However, Frank doesn't mention the word "love" when referring to the cats residing around his complex. Instead, he looks at the problem from a business point of view. "It is very difficult to show apartments when a cat crosses your path at every turn," he says. He also points to the unpleasantness of the cats' "hissing, screaming, sex and yelps at night, and defecation during the day."
Holmes and Kahn say Frank has threatened to "remove" all cats not wearing identification tags within a month. They say the animals would be euthanized by the Lane County Animal Regulation Authority (LCARA).
Frank says this is not the case. "I feel [Kahn and Holmes] insulted the intelligence of the tenants by the ridiculous claim that they made," he says, referring to a letter and petition Kahn and Holmes issued seeking support for their efforts. "They were out of line. It was pure sensationalism. There have never been any concrete plans."
Instead, Frank says he has simply forbidden tenants to feed animals outdoors. "We should see a significant reduction in feral animals if there isn't food readily available," he says. The LCARA recommended not feeding the cats. "I don't know if [the TNR method] works or not," he says. "I want to see results, and I am not going to take part in something that keeps animals here by feeding them." Frank also plans to issue a newer, more detailed pet policy for the complex this week.
"I don't know what's going to happen now," says Kahn, stroking one of the cats.
Perhaps this sentiment echoes that of the entire county. What is going to happen now — not just to the feral cats in the Devonshire Hills complex, but to the thousands in Lane County?
Feral cat overpopulation, with all its controversies and intricacies, is not unique to Devonshire Hills. In fact, the number of feral and stray felines has reached what Mike Wellington, program manager at LCARA, calls "epidemic level" in the past few years.
|FCCO Eugene Coordinator Cathy Bill warms an emaciated cat following surgery for an absess and tooth removal.|
Between 1996 and June 2001 alone, LCARA processed more than 7,000 cats, 6,000 of which were euthanized. Wellington estimates that nearly 95 percent of euthanized cats are feral, and August is the peak month for feral cat overpopulation.
All cats brought to LCARA go through a screening process to determine if they are "feral." The process involves a 24-hour surveillance period and a temperament test. If two officers agree the animal is feral, it can be euthanized immediately. "The evaluation factor has to deal with health, obvious nutrition and obvious domestication," Wellington says. "There are an estimated 500,000 feral cats in Oregon."
According to the FCCO, feral cats can be defined as "the offspring of domesticated house cats who have been abandoned or who have gotten lost while searching for mates. Feral cats often band together in colonies and continue breeding. Over time they become more and more wary of people and teach their kittens to avoid humans."
People who aren't ready for the responsibilities of pet ownership sometimes abandon their cats. College students arriving in the fall often get kittens and abandon them when it is time to return home in the summer. Wellington says a single one of these female cats and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in seven years, though many of the offspring don't survive.
The result is an overwhelming population of homeless cats, living off whatever food they can find, including garbage, rodents and birds. According to Wellington, these colonies can be destructive because they can carry more than 30 diseases contagious either to humans or pet cats. He also says the colonies offset the balance of wildlife, since cats often consume birds and have no natural predators. However, Wellington also adds that properly managed, healthy feral cat colonies can be beneficial in large cities. "It keeps the rodent control down," he says.
Organizations in Action
A plethora of local and national organizations, each with their own opinions on how to manage feline overpopulation, are working to reduce the number of stray cats.
The FCCO, based in Portland, uses the TNR method. Founded in 1995, the FCCO travels around the state providing spay and neuter services solely to feral cats trapped by their caregivers. The mass clinic, which takes place every other month, operates out of a mobile veterinary unit. The FCCO asks the cats' caregivers for a $20 donation on each animal spayed or neutered, but "we don't turn anybody away," says Cathy Bill, Eugene coordinator for the FCCO. However, Bill says it is imperative that caregivers call and make reservations ahead of time.
The FCCO — supported solely through donations and manned by volunteers — has spayed and neutered more than 12,000 feral cats. "The TNR program is a darn good start," says Bill, "the cats are healthier as well as not reproducing,"
|Julie Rowley, DVM of Amazon Park Animal Clinic, spays a cat at an FCCO mobile clinic Aug. 4.|
Bill says many landlords are supportive of the TNR program, while others are not. "It's a mixed reaction to the feral and stray cat population. Some landlords don't understand if they get rid of feral cats in their area, more will move in," she says. If landlords prevent the cats' caretakers from feeding them, Bill says, "they will get very sick, and they can live on garbage — there's always garbage. There's no guarantee that they will move away."
However, Wellington says, "it won't reduce the population, but if you quit feeding [the cats], they're going to go somewhere else to eat, and that will reduce the activity in that area. It's just common sense."
Still, Wellington agrees that the TNR program is a positive factor. "It's a great thing they're doing," he says, "a good step in the right direction to curb the overpopulation of feral cats." He also advocates implementing a cat ordinance, since Eugene currently has no laws requiring cats to be licensed. "Someone needs to be responsible, other than the taxpayer," he says, pointing to the $165 minimum required for LCARA to "process" a single feral cat — catching, feeding, testing and euthanizing.
Wellington devised a cat ordinance, which he submitted to the city and county officials. The proposed ordinance is similar to a dog ordinance, requiring cats to be licensed and wear identification. Unlike dogs, cats would be allowed to roam free as long as they were spayed or neutered. Wellington says well-defined regulations helped dramatically reduce the population of stray dogs. "We need to start looking at cats that way also," he says.
Leanne and Lorna Cook are proponents of both the TNR method and a county licensing procedure. The sisters, who helped start up the FCCO's mobile clinic five years ago, now run their own cat sanctuary in Pleasant Hill. Ninth Life is supported by local businesses and individual donors, and is dedicated to rescuing and finding homes for "feral, unadoptable, abandoned or throw-away cats," says Leanne Cook. "We've placed almost 500 kitties who were on death's door or wilder than a March hare. This is our whole life. This is unconditional love."
|Judy Scher (left) and Meg Hicks give a flea treatment to a cat recovering from surgery|
Ninth Life is also represented by volunteer Krystal Bachman at the FCCO's mobile clinic in Eugene. "TNR is working all over the world," says Cook.
The Stray Cat Alliance (SCA) in Eugene is working to alleviate the pressure by providing low-cost food, spay, neuter and medical services for the pets of low-income owners. The alliance also provides cat food for feral cat caregivers.
Deanna Kuhn, SCA director and former FCCO coordinator, says the TNR program in combination with massive, low-cost spay and neuter clinics subsidized by the public, is the best solution. Otherwise, she says, "the public ends up paying to have these cats euthanized."
All the organizations agree on one thing: Responsible pet ownership is the key to preventing future feral cat overpopulation. Wellington and Cook advise pet owners to microchip their pets as a form of identification. In fact, Cook says she and her sister are in the process of obtaining a microchipping system, which they plan to make available through low-cost clinics.
Owners for Life
Most of all, animal organizations urge pet owners to consider the implications of owning a pet before getting one, and to spay and neuter their cats. "When you get an animal, it is for life," says Bill. "Spay and neuter to prevent overpopulation and for the health benefits of the pets."
Cook says she would like to travel the country and educate the public on responsible pet ownership. "You can be a low-income pet owner and still be responsible," she says.
She also says that citizens who aren't particularly fond of cats should be active as well. "People who don't like cats should be the most involved," she says. "If they have a problem, all they have to do is get involved in the solution. They can help."
Wellington also urges the entire community to get involved. "We're a product of the community," says Wellington. "If the community was more responsible and acted in a more responsible manner, our jobs would be easier."
Good or bad, the feral cat population depends on these responsibilities: the choices we make as human beings. The future of Moon, Zion and other feral cats will be an echo of those decisions.
'Other' Homeless Animals
Pro-Bone-O, formerly known as Helping Animals Living Outdoors (HALO), is dedicated to helping another kind of homeless animal: the pets of homeless people in the community.
The organization holds a free clinic from 9 am to 1 pm every second and fourth Sunday at the St. Vincent De Paul service station on Highway 99 North. Volunteer veterinarians provide basic services, including vaccines, check ups, de-worming and medications for skin and digestive problems.
"The program is first-come, first-serve," says coordinator and board member Lyn Gilman-Garrick. "Ninety-nine percent of the pets treated at the clinic are dogs and cats."
Pro-Bone-O works with the FCCO to provide referrals, and the FCCO assisted Pro-Bone-O with their free spay and neuter clinic last spring.
Twenty veterinarians from the community volunteer their time to operate the clinics and make up the board of directors. Two vets also volunteer to perform cat and dog spay or neuter operations. The rest of the volunteers are individuals from the community.
If you are interested in adopting a cat, donating money, volunteering or obtaining more information about stray or feral cats, contact:
Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon
(503) 797-2686 in Portland, (541) 607-4282 (Eugene hotline)
Greenhill Humane Society
Lane County Animal Regulation Authority
302-6279, 252 W. 7th Ave., Eugene 97401
SPOT (Stop Pet Overpopulation Today)
Stray Cat Alliance
The Ninth Life
(541) 747-8964, P.O. Box 633, Pleasant Hill 97455
A friend of mine was kicked out of an environmentalist watering hole of a coffee shop for pitch forking a possum bothering the neighbor's dogs. Idiots.
We also have an outbreak of heartworms to worry about. These are carried by mosquitoes, and normally is an affliction found in the Southeast.
Mother Nature would handle an over population of carnivores like housecats by culling out the excess.
Now what's so hard about that?
Stay safe; stay armed.
Her Mom flew in from Arizona and discovered her daughter's rats had been multiplying, and that the ignored problem of pets becoming vermin had allowed then into the walls.
Some locals were angry because they were poisoned. As someone who had rotting rodents mined from the sheetrock in my ceiling, I say good riddance to them.
The girl? She still lives there. This is Eugene after all, and that incident was not enough to evict her. Unless she gets rats as pets again that is.
I'm so glad now I never accepted any invitations to dine with you and your family. :-)
And they want to blame it on cats....
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