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A different approach for dumpster cats

SoVaNow.com / November 28, 2012
The dumpster cat, often among the most shunned of creatures, has a new champion who is testing a different approach to dealing with the problem of feral strays in Mecklenburg County.

Most everyone agrees on the problem: there are too many stray cats in Mecklenburg County. Even the Lake Country SPCA is overflowing and unable to accept new strays.

The animals are forced to scrounge for food. They often live brief lives of constant hunger and infections. Even though they may not live long, young females may reproduce upwards of three or four times.

At Uppy’s gas station in Clarksville, Manager Bonnie Farmer says the ever-growing population that hangs around the business is a nuisance. The kittens — most of which appear to be under a year old — congregate near the trash cans by the gas pumps and the store, as well as by an enclosed dumpster. The young strays sometimes get too close to vehicles and are killed, and they often upset or disturb customers.

Doug Blanton with Mecklenburg County’s Animal Control says the problem is not unique to Uppy’s. It’s repeated at most every dumpster site in Mecklenburg County. Since there are no ordinances or laws involving stray or feral cats, his office cannot pick them up.

Anonymous good Samaritans in the area try to help by bringing food and water to the broods. Blanton, who is quick to say he never wants to see any animal suffer, suggests that feeding feral cats may only exacerbate the issue.

Solving that problem, however, has become a thorny issue. There are no programs through which these animals are euthanized. Even if there were, there are many in the community, including several volunteers involved with the local SPCA, who would object to such programs.

People who attempt to rid Mecklenburg County of surplus cats by shooting them, Blanton says, are breaking the law. “It is illegal to shoot an animal for no reason.”

What to do?



A crusade for cats

One local woman, Holly Burnette wants people around Mecklenburg to join her crusade to solve the feral cat problem through a program called TNR — trap, neuter, release. She is starting with the kittens near Uppy’s.

Burnette agrees with the philosophy espoused by PAWS, a 30-year old TNR program in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. It claims to have scientific proof that simply killing off stray cats does not solve the problem. The organization says euthanasia creates a “vacuum effect” in which new cats will simply move in to replace the ones killed off.

If feral cats are neutered and returned to their colonies, they keep the population stable. Over time, the colonies will begin to decline. Moreover, neutered cats are not so prone to engage in unpleasant behaviors such as fighting and over-mating.

Working with an anonymous benefactor who will pay to spay or neuter the animals, Burnette plans to trap the kittens populating the dumpsters and woods near Uppy’s. Normally, after a few days of recovery, the animals would be released to the area where they were caught.

Uppy’s does not want them back, The Lake Country SPCA is full, and the benefactor wants a promise that these animals will have a steady supply of food and shelter from storms. Burnette wants to keep the colony intact.

“They make perfect barn cats,” said Burnette, who is begging and pleading for someone to step forward and accept a population of 10 or 11 sterile kittens.

The idea is that well-fed, healthy cats — they will receive a rabies shot in addition to the spaying or neutering — will be less of a nuisance and live contented lives on their own. Males no longer will inflict wounds on each other fighting for females. If fighting is eliminated, it is hoped the cats won’t spread diseases to each other, and without reproduction, the colony eventually will die out.

Good Samaritans wanted

Burnette is not the first person to try TNR. Around the country, many local cat rescue groups are trying this approach to deal with burgeoning cat populations.

Colonies of feral cats are trapped, spayed or neutered at clinics run by local vets who often charge reduced fees. The cats also are given a rabies vaccination and then are released into the wild, usually at the same spot where they were captured.

People who live near the colonies, known as caretakers, or volunteers from local animal-rescue groups promise to feed the cats and make sure they have shelter in inclement weather.

Burnette acknowledges there are those who do not approve of TNR programs, but she argues it is the most humane way to deal with a cat population that is exploding out of control.

For now, she will leave the fight over the efficacy of TNR programs to others. Instead, she hopes to find a Good Samaritan with a barn willing to accept the newly sterile cats from Uppy’s.

Anyone interested in helping Burnette should contact her at 843-995-0218 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



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