Community discusses feral cat problem

ajames@newsobserver.comOctober 4, 2013 

— Veterinarians, cat lovers and concerned residents gathered Sept. 25 to talk about how to slow growth in the county’s feral cat population.

About 25 people attended a meeting at the Morning Glory Inn. The majority said the county should launch a low-cost spay-neuter program to benefit both low-income pet owners and people who look after colonies of feral cats.

Tammy Godusi, a volunteer with the Johnston County Animal Protection League, helped organize the meeting. “We quickly realized that the biggest group of homeless animals is feral cats,” she said.

Dr. Barbara Cotton was among the veterinarians in attendance. She suggested using megestrol acetate, a hormone that goes into cat food and decreases fertility.

But that idea met opposition from other veterinarians and rescue-group volunteers, who cited its damaging side effects.

“It can cause breast cancer, diabetes and other serious side effects,” Cotton said. On the plus side, $11 buys enough of the hormone to treat more than 100 cats.

Trap, neuter, release?

Maria Brewer, who volunteers with several rescue groups in Wake County, talked about what has worked best there. “Our vets are the biggest resource that can help us with this crisis,” she said.

Dr. Melissa Anderson, a veterinarian in Wake County, attended the meeting. “Cats are throwaways to most people,” she said “People move out of their house or trailer and they leave their cat behind.”

Anderson said she saw two options – spend county money to try to trap and kill every feral cat or launch a trap, neuter and release, or TNR, program.

“For cats that are part of a colony that have a caretaker that looks out for them, TNR is the perfect solution,” Anderson said.

David Meadows, who cares for a colony of 14 cats, came to the meeting because two of his cats have gone missing. Both have had their ears tipped, indicating they’ve been spayed or neutered and that someone is caring for them.

Meadows asked Ernie Wilkinson, head of the Johnston County animal shelter, what the shelter does to guard against putting down cats that have had their ears tipped.

“We do check the ears on every cat that comes in,” said Wilkinson.

The shelter then waits 72 hours for someone to claim the cat. After 72 hours, the cat is put down.

Wilkinson said his staff has no way of knowing who the cats belong to.

What about rabies?

“There is a huge lack of education about rabies shots for house pets,” Brewer said.

As part of Operation Catnip, a TNR program in Wake County, veterinarians give one-year rabies shots to captured cats. Those in attendance agreed Johnston County should do the same.

Wilkinson said the animal shelter gives rabies shots by appointment. The cost is $5.

Godusi said the meeting was a success. “We found a core group of people who want to continue this discussion and put together action items for how to address the problem,” she said.

First, the group will launch a Facebook page and email list to keep everyone informed. Then it will set about raising the money needed to bring a trap, neuter and release program to Johnston County.

James: 919-553-7234

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