Written by Malinda Just Wednesday, 10 October 2007 09:39
Maybe you’ve seen them around Hillsboro. A lone cat roaming downtown, rummaging in dumpsters behind restaurants, or even packs of cats traveling from yard to yard on your street.
Chances are they are not your neighbor’s pets, but feral felines—that, over time, have become wild, foraging streets and neighborhoods for food.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 10 to 90 million feral cats live in the U.S. And, while some communities have laws regarding the proper handling of these animals, the majority of cities, including Hillsboro, do not.
Hillsboro has a city ordinance regarding dogs, requiring registration and leash laws, while feral cats are free to roam.
Additionally, Hillsboro doesn’t have animal control officers, so the Hillsboro Police Department steps in regarding animal complaints, including feral cats.
“It’s a pretty common problem in any town I’ve ever been in,” said Dan Kinning, Hillsboro police chief. “Most of the strays that run are actually fed, people just don’t claim them. (People will) leave food out for them, but they won’t claim them as their cat.”
Kinning said that feeding feral cats leads to more than a cat problem—it also brings in wild animals.
“(Feeding feral cats) attracts the skunks and the opossums,” he said. “Most of those are nocturnal animals that come in at night and then kind of disappear before daylight. The problem comes if they become ill and start wandering around during the day, or if they get trapped in a garage.
“People will leave their garage door open just a few inches to let the cat in to access food, and (wild animals) go inside those residences.
“They’re not easy to get rid of.”
Aside from animal control issues, Hillsboro veterinarian Norman Galle said it is never advisable to feed feral cats because of health risks.
“If you’re feeding stray cats, you’re just encouraging them and helping them survive,” he said. “Most of them are fairly wild and do carry potential disease and danger to people.”
The most serious threat feral cats pose to humans, he said, is bite wounds and the threat of rabies.
“Cat bites can be very lethal and can cause severe infections,” Galle said.
The spread of disease isn’t limited to humans, however. Domestic animals are also susceptible to a wide variety of diseases transmitted from feral cats, such as leukemia and distemper.
“A lot of (diseases) we can vaccinate for, but there’s always that reservoir out there in the wild animals that exposes our pets,” Galle said. “If (pets) are not vaccinated, then they can come down with (the diseases).”
Direct contact with an infected animal is all it takes for a domestic animal to contract a disease.
“If you let your cat out of the house at night, they just have to come in contact with one of the other animals,” Galle said. “The diseases can be spread very easily that way.”
In addition to the spread of disease, feral cats may also be to blame for the decrease of the wild bird population.
“A lot of the cats tend to eat the wild birds and a lot of people blame the decrease in the bird populations on the feral cat population,” Galle said.
But what can you do to help?
Galle suggests two main courses of action to take in order to help control the feral cat population.
“The main thing is, spay and neuter (domestic) cats so we’re not producing unwanted kittens — which end up getting dumped in society and don’t have a home,” he said. “People need to be responsible owners of a pet and take care of them so that we’re not just re-propagating and not taking care of them.”
Another option both Galle and Kinning give is the use of live traps, which are both humane and legal.
“It will take a big effort to control (feral cats), but (live traps) are a safe and humane way of catching them,” Galle said.
Once caught, Galle suggests taking feral cats to an area animal shelter such as Caring Hands in Newton. Marion County does not have an animal shelter available.
Galle doesn’t suggest, however, taking feral cats to the country to dump.
“If you take (feral cats) to the country, they’ll come right back,” he said.
“And the people in the country don’t appreciate (feral cats) being dumped out there because (the cats) become their problem. You really haven’t solved any problems by dumping (feral cats) in the country.”
A third solution to the feral cat problem is one on the rise in larger communities.
Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine said that many cities across the United States are using a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) solution for feral cats.
“The most effective way that (feral cats) have been dealt with in larger communities is that (people) find the cats, they spay and neuter the cats, and then they put them back out into that neighborhood and they let them run their life cycle.
“Sounds kind of weird, but that’s what’s working,” he said.
The Humane Society of the United States also advocates TNR. For more information about the program visit the society’s Web site, www.hsus.org.
Feral cat tips
Following are some inexpensive strategies for homeowners to discourage free-roaming cats—domestic or feral (from www.hsus.org):
Repellents. Check with any pet supply store or garden supplier for commercial cat repellents. Keep in mind that the effectiveness of any repellent will deteriorate with moisture and/or time, and will need re-applied after rain, heavy dew or watering.
Sound and movement. Scatter pebbles on a metal tray. Balance several trays along the fence, porch or deck railing, the windowsill, or around the edge of any vehicle where the cat jumps onto the surface. The weight of a cat leaping onto the surface will upset the tray. The cat will be startled by the noise and by the unsteady, collapsing perch.
Texture. To keep a cat from jumping onto flat surfaces (railings, vehicles or decks), criss-cross double-sided tape onto a piece of sturdy plastic. Drape the plastic over the surface, and secure it with cord, or at least one weighted object, to keep it in position. The sticky tape is annoying to the cat (without causing pain or panic), and the slick plastic not only rattles but also offers no foothold.
Water. When the temperature permits, turn on a water sprinkler during the usual time of disturbance. This method works especially well for those areas where birds feed on the ground or where cats are using a garden area as a litter box.
Obstacle. If your bird feeder or birdhouse is mounted on a post, nail a galvanized metal guard in the shape of an inverted cone to the post to protect the platform.