Thursday, August 03, 2006

Athens residents save wild neighborhood cats

Residents take action to save wild cats in their neighborhoods
Athens News Ohio - August 3, 2006
By Nick Claussen
Athens NEWS Associate Editor

Faced with the problems of stray cats running wild in their neighborhoods, several Athens residents are now putting up shelters for the feral cats and getting the animals fixed.

Kate McGuckin, a member of the Athens Coalition of Companion Animals (ACCA), told Athens City Council Monday about the work that's being done for feral cats in the city of Athens. McGuckin, attending the meeting to discuss council's move to change its spay/neuter ordinance (see related story), explained that many people are trying to control pet overpopulation in Athens by dealing with the feral-cat problem.

McGuckin said that area residents are trapping feral cats, having them spayed or neutered, and then releasing them back into the neighborhoods. Having the cats fixed keeps them from reproducing in the neighborhoods, but it also curbs some of the fighting between cats, she said. In addition, the feral cats stay in the neighborhoods and form small colonies that end up keeping other stray cats from moving in, McGuckin said.

Sara Filipiak, who is also a member of ACCA, added that over time, the cats in the colony will die off, and the colony will grow smaller and smaller. This allows the city residents to help curb the cat overpopulation problem in a humane way without hurting the cats that are already in the neighborhoods, Filipiak said.

Shelley Lieberman, who lives on the west side of Athens, bought 12 feral cat shelters to be used in Athens and has already given nine of the shelters to friends in the city to put out for the cats.

Lieberman said she has housecats, but is generally not a person who wants a lot of cats or animals. When a stray cat moved into her neighborhood and had kittens, though, she felt like she needed to do something to help the animals. Lieberman found homes for many of the kittens, but also wanted to do something to help the feral cats that run wild in the city.

She read about how cities across the country are using special shelters for feral cats, and thought they would be a good idea for Athens. The shelters look like small wooden boxes, and they are insulated and built so that up to three cats can be inside. Lieberman put straw inside the shelter in her backyard, and explained that the shelter has two levels for the cats.

"They work really well," Lieberman said. The cats stay warm in the shelters in the winter, and they tend to live around the shelter in the summer.

Feral cats are generally regarded as the fourth generation of cats that run wild, and in most cases they are afraid of people and cannot be petted, Lieberman said. While many people think feral cats are unhealthy, Lieberman said they generally are in good health and that it doesn't take much work to care for them. She considers her feral cats like pets, even though they cannot come in the house and cannot be treated like most pets.

On Tuesday afternoon, two cats were in Lieberman's backyard sleeping in the grass near the shelter, and Lieberman said the cats are no longer afraid of her, though they do run from most people.

One of her cats, Ali, is actually a stray that is not a true feral cat, Lieberman said. She can pick him up and pet him, but he cannot become a housecat (he sprays, which is one problem) and lives in the shelter in her backyard. This cat has become the dominant cat in the colony, Lieberman said.

"He chases dogs," she said about Ali.

She recently found another stray cat, Oscar, who was malnourished and appeared to have been injured in fights with other cats. After trapping this cat and taking him to the veterinarian, Lieberman is now keeping him at home and helping him regain his health, and hopes to find a home for him soon.

If she sees stray cats around her house that can live in homes, she will try to find homes for them, Lieberman said. Most of the cats she helps, though, are feral cats roaming wild that need shelter and a little care.

Lieberman is looking for volunteers to serve as foster homes for some of the feral kittens, or for people who want to help with the foster cats in their neighborhoods. She can be e-mailed at feralkittens@hotmail.com.