August 30, 2011
Feral cats posing problems
Officials say growing number of stray cats need to be either spayed or neutered
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Clayton Hood drops dry cat food from a frying pan to feed stray cats gathered on his porch in Taylor. Hood says he can’t afford to feed the cats but doesn’t want them to starve. He is looking for homes for the cats.
CINCINNATUS — Local resident Clayton Hood is finding himself surrounded by needy cats as he is unwilling to stop feeding the growing population of strays outside his home.
This situation reflects a growing problem of stray cats in need of spays and neutering within Cortland County.
Hood said he has been feeding the strays that congregate around his home but the problem is getting out of control. Hood said now about nine adult cats and seven kittens gather outside his door daily, expecting to be fed, and he cannot afford to continue feeding them.
The Cortland Community Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cannot help because the agency does not have the resources to respond to every report of stray cats, said Executive Director Donna Davie.
“Our resources are so limited,” Davie said. “So how we do it is if a cat’s sick or hurt or injured, we save our cages for that.”
The issue of needy strays speaks to a larger problem, Davie said.
“Cats need to be spayed and neutered,” she said.
A feral cat cannot be safely brought into a home any more than a raccoon could, Davie said. Such cats, born outside, are similar to wildlife.
“There is a period of six to eight weeks old where they can be tamed, but after that they don’t want to be in your house,” Davie said. “It’s not safe.”
As a result of the high-stress environment of living outdoors, Davie said the life expectancy of feral cats can be as short as a few years. They will also find other food sources once the one they have come to rely on, disappears, she says.
Davie urges the public to take advantage of programs that trap, spay and release stray cats. The program is costly and the SPCA does not offer it, but Central New York Spay Neuter Assistance Program, does.
Janice Hinman, director of the SNAP program, said the agency works with people to accommodate their needs. Traps can be loaned to people who need them and rates, $30 for a neuter and $50 for a spay, can be adjusted depending on the person’s financial situation.
Hinman said the clinic, open Mondays and Saturdays, spays about 70 animals weekly. In the eight years the program has been in existence it has neutered about 17,000 cats and dogs, said Hinman.
Hinman calls the problem of cat overpopulation “overwhelming” and ties it to economic distress.
“People cannot afford the prices veterinarians are charging,” she said.
Hinman said low income people can also find themselves with animals they cannot keep and may not be able to afford surrender fees at the SPCA. A cat can go into heat three times a year and have about six kittens each time it breeds, said Hinman. This creates a cycle of cat colonization that gets out of control if the cats are released.
Hinman said the center gets about 20 calls a day from people in need of its services. The clinic works with Ithaca-based Shelter Outreach Services to perform the spays and neuters. Volunteers will trap the animals as needed but usually owners are asked to catch the animals themselves.
Hinman said if people simply stop feeding a stray population, those animals will become a problem elsewhere.
She said it is “exciting” that the area has Shelter Outreach Services and can benefit from its aggressive spay and neuter program, but she said that animals are not adopted out as fast as they are neutered.
The SNAP program works with rescue organizations, such as Central New York Cat Coalition, a Syracuse-based rescue group, which helps place cats in homes.
Davie said the SPCA offers low-cost spaying and neutering, charging the public $35 per procedure, an amount that helps fund neutering the stray animals the shelter takes in.
Davie said that according to state law, once you start feeding a cat you are considered its owner and therefore responsible for its care. But Davie said the agency would not prosecute someone in Hood’s situation, given his economic distress and how the circumstances have gotten out of control.
Hood said he just wants to help the cats. He urges people to come take the kittens, which he says are feisty but tame for the most part.
“I don’t know if I have the heart to stop feeding them but I can’t keep feeding them,” said Hood, adding that rising fuel costs are strangling his fixed income so he cannot afford to keep paying for cat food.
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