Published: Sunday, April 15, 2012, 2:00 AM
Syracuse, NY — When feral or abandoned cats move into a neighborhood, they can wreak havoc.
The cats can damage flowers, defecate in sandboxes and gardens, and leave stinky spray on porches, garages and doorways.
But Central New York homeowners often are left with no where to turn for relief.
If they call their city, village or town, they are usually told, sorry there is nothing we can do – nearly all have no laws to license or control these cats. The state also has no laws to control the feral cat population.
Some times, people are given phone numbers to a local shelter or animal rights group. But most of the time these shelters are filled beyond capacity or the group will try to help but both operate on limited resources.
“The question of how to control free roaming cat populations is controversial,” said Bruce Kornreich, Cornell University veterinarian.
This became very public recently in Salina when residents began complaining to the town’s animal control officer about feral cats damaging their property. The town is one of the only local municipalities that does have a cat control law. The law, which has been under fire since it was adopted in 2005, declares feral cat caregivers to be the feline’s owner making the caregivers financially responsible for damages.
The law also allows the town to trap cats. The law is currently the subject of a lawsuit by two residents whose cats were recently trapped and an animal rights group that claims the town’s law is unconstitutional.
Feral cat colonies develop when kittens or cats are abandoned. And the problem gets worse because the cats breed. A cat can have about three litters a year.
Kornreich said the size of the free roaming cat population in the United States is not known, but estimates are between 30 and 90 million cats.
Experts said communities tend to take three approaches to feral cats:
» Do nothing. » Trap and kill. » Trap and release. The cats are trapped, spayed or neutered and returned to the original neighborhood.
“To find solutions we all must work together,” said Donna Chambers of the Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse.
The Animal Alliance of Greater Syracuse, an association of local animal rescue and advocacy resources, and other cat advocacy groups are calling on the town of Salina and other municipalities to adopt the trap and release method.
“Many feral cats are cats that have been abandoned by former neighbors,” she said. “They are community cats. Nobody’s problem is actually everybody’s problem.” The town of Salina has a policy of trapping cats and taking them to SPCA.
Paul Morgan, executive director of the SPCA, said they don’t automatically kill the cats brought in by the town.
If the cats are friendly and healthy, they will be adopted out. If they are sick they will be euthanized. Morgan said he takes several feral cats to farmland in Cayuga County, where a farmer agrees to care for them.
But feral cats are rarely adopted out because have not been socialized by humans and can be aggressive.
There are limits for the SPCA and other groups to how many cats they can handle. The SPCA, for example, currently has 175 cats, about 75 over its capacity.
Animal Alliance and other animal advocates say trapping a feral cat and removing it or killing it does not solve the feral cat problem, because more cats will move into neighborhoods where feral colonies were eliminated.
“Trapping and relocating free roaming cats is not likely to have a significant effect on these populations, as they are often rapidly repopulated by migrating free roaming cats,” Kornreich said.
These animal rights groups want the town to adopt a method of TNR.
“Trap and release is the only proven method that provides a permanent solution,” Chambers said.
The process works by setting up traps in neighborhoods that have a feral cat population. The cats are taken by the CNY Cat Coalition, or other rescue group, to be spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies. The tip of the cat’s ear is clipped to show that they are part of a managed colony and the cats are returned.
For TNR to work well, a neighbor must agree to be a caregiver. The caregiver’s role is to provide shelter and food for the colony and to monitor the colony for new cats. If new cats move in they are trapped immediately. The cost of food and shelter fall on the caregivers, but the veterinary costs are often discounted by local organizations.
The cat coalition works with low-cost spay and neuter organizations and local veterinarians to provide discounted or free services. Cat Coalition President Marietta Rowe counsels CNY residents on TNR.
“We offer assistance, advice and even loan out traps,” Rowe said.
Kornreich said TNR has been shown to be a viable means of controlling the cat population. To successfully practice TNR, Kornreich suggests that individuals, organizations and local governments work together. Representatives from the SPCA, Cat Coalition and Animal Alliance agree.
“We just have to get the local governments to get on board,” Chambers said.
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