|Celina (In- Loving- Memory)|
No dog is too- big for me to- smack
|Purred: Sun Aug 14, '05 4:27pm PST |
|Feral cats are the cute, potentially hazardous problem that's not going away, according to Paul Studivant, supervisor of St. Johns County Animal Control.
Yet, people see animal control, not the furry creatures, as the problem.
"People think we're out to kill cats," Studivant said.
Judging by the looks Studivant received from residents on Thursday when checking the feral cat traps at Coquina Lakes apartment complex, an overpopulated feral cat colony location on West Pope Road, he's not exaggerating.
"We're fighting a losing battle," he said, pointing out the food bowls residents place in areas to defer the cats from the traps. "You'd think I was beating (the cats) in the head."
In St. Johns County, Studivant estimates there are 12 major feral cat colonies -- approximately seven in the South end and five in the North end -- with 40 plus cats in each colony.
There also are smaller colonies cropping up all over the county, with three or four more in the Northwest alone, he said. Many prosper because residents feed them.
Most feral cat colonies are behind shopping and businesses areas, in alleys, parks and rural areas.
"It's like the woods are alive," Studivant said.
The stray colonies come about because of negligent owners, either renters or homeowners who sell or leave their homes, abandoning the cats, despite the fact that pet abandonment is illegal in every state.
Feral cats are also the result of pet owners who fail to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled.
"These cats are multiplying at a steady rate it's an ongoing problem," he said. "It's a bad thing as far as my job goes."
Bad because, in the words of Dr. Virginia Quelch, vet at St. Johns Veterinary Clinic, "(feral) cats can be the most horrible predators."
At the paws and jaws of feral, or wild, cats all over the county, wildlife such as dune mice, rabbits, mocking birds and what Studivant calls "bush friends" are being killed.
"They'll devastate an entire area of songbirds," Studivant said. "Not to mention the threat of rabies."
On June 29, a rabid stray cat in Ponte Vedra Beach bit a person after the individual attempted to catch and feed the animal.
The woman, most likely a "rescuer" is like several other advocates of feral cats. Some groups trap, spay and neuter the wild cats. Others give inoculations as well before turning the cats loose again.
Yet, "these colonies keep multiplying, so something's not going right," Studivant said.
Still other groups provide a food source for the cats, but nothing else.
Just feeding the wild cats, Quelch said, is controversial because providing food, and thus nourishment, allows female strays to reproduce.
"When a person provides a steady food source, the cat can set up house and have her kittens. Then, you have her seven kittens. Soon, they all get pregnant it becomes exponential," Quelch said.
Two relatively healthy cats could ultimately be the starting point of producing well over 100,000 cats in 10 years if each female cat has an average litter of two females and one male, Studivant said.
"People don't understand the two-month gestation period," Quelch said, referencing how quickly a cat can produce offspring.
And, according to literature on the Feral Cat Coalition Web site, the price tag for maintenance of the kitties isn't cheap. Annually, more than $50 million -- largely from taxes -- is spent statewide by animal control agencies and shelters for cat-related expenses.
Approximately 18 to 20 traps are set weekly over 609 square miles of land by animal control. If the weather is good, Studivant said, there is potential to bring in 40 cats a week.
After Studivant catches a feral cat, he takes it to the local humane society shelter for a 48-hour assessment period. If the animal shows signs of being handled without posing a threat to people within that time, it has the possibility to be adopted out, but the majority of them are not adoptable, he said.
"They're most likely going to be euthanized because they're not habituated to humans at all," said Cindy Bishop, director of the St. Augustine Humane Society.
Roberta Butler, president of Coquina Lakes board, feels torn on the subject of the feral cats. Although she is eager to help Studivant eradicate the problem, her heart goes out to the nomad cats.
"It's horrible," Butler said, tearing up. "Just horrible."
Quelch said sources now suggest that the wild cats be trapped, evaluated for disease (then properly treated), spayed or neutered and then released again. "They can enjoy and live out their lives."
Furthermore, the Feral Cat Coalition Web site points out that studies have proven that trap-neuter-release is the single most successful method of stabilizing and maintaining healthy feral cat colonies with the least possible cost to local governments and residents, while providing the best life for the animals themselves.
But, Studivant says it's not that easy.
"If someone is wanting to get involved, my recommendation is not to do that at all. If someone is providing food that's all they're providing. If someone wants to get (the feral cats) fixed, he or she would have to check up on these animals yearly (for diseases, etc.)," he said. "Yes, it would cut down on my population, but will it help the animal as far as survival goes? No."
Quelch pointed out that, ideally, "tremendous marketing campaigns" could help solve the problem. "When everyone hears about (spaying and neutering) relentlessly."
Though hope seems bleak for the homeless cats, Bishop is optimistic in people: "Education is the answer."
Several places have actually allowed hunting cats legal. As digusting and inhumane as this sounds, we are already doing it and have been for many years. Wild boar is another animal our ancestors introduced, which escaped or were set free and took over the land. They destroy land and crops and chase off resident animals. They also breed faster then many herbivores, like deer. Yet, we hunt them every year in hopes that we can make a dent in their population and cut them down enough to allow natural wildlife to make a comeback. And no one seems to care. The idea of killing a wild boar seems good, and hardly every is brought up to be disgusting or inhumane. Yet, pigs are rated the 4th smartest animal in the world. Right under dolphins and apes. Pigs are kept as pets in many homes. Though they are a different type of pig then what the boar is, they are still one in the same when it comes to their brains.
Here's something else to chew on....In St. Johns county, where this article comes from, people are tripping traps and feeding the cats. They are only helping the problem. So one day in the future, St. Johns may have to join the list for hunting cats. What's worse? These cats being caught alive, behaviourly and biologically tested to see if they can be places in a home, and some may be adopted and yes, of course, many put to sleep or being shot? It's better then a life on the streets, with cars, dogs, other cats, bobcats, snakes, rabies, starvation, and a 100 other dangers always on their tail.
Several organizations have been started to capture the cats, spay/neuter them and administer rabies and set them free. I certainly don't disagree with this practice. At least they can't breed, and thus aren't contributing to the population problem, however, this doesn't save them from all the other dangers.
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