Posted by: rcieri | November 15, 2009

Irresponsible ownership boosts stray cat population

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Last spring, senior Laura Wainman adopted two three-week-old kittens a friend found under a car in the Oaks parking lot. Oscar, being bottle-fed above, is now five months old and living with feline AIDS. Photo submitted.

Lack of licensing laws contributes to growing problem in county

August 31, 2009

By Rachel Cieri

A furry tail disappears into a dumpster. Something quick and four-legged scurries into the bushes next to the dining hall. A pair of round eyes peer out from behind the tire of a car. Even the squirrels are less shy than this hidden community.

Meet the stray and feral cats of Elon.

According to Laura Michel, outreach coordinator at the Burlington Pet Adoption Center, it’s not just Elon’s campus that’s full of homeless feline residents. The strays are widespread throughout Alamance County and are a major contributor to the shelter’s more than 8,000 animals each year.

“Most of what comes through our doors are strays,” Michel said.

Without homes and human companions, these cats live dangerous lives, at risk for illness, getting hit by cars and fighting with other animals. Because of this, the ASPCA estimates their average lifespan is only two to five years.

Feral cats, those that have no human contact and reverted to a wild state, often live in a colony to use a particular food source. Elon is host to one of several feral colonies across Alamance County. The target? Campus garbage.

Michel pins the root of the stray and feral population’s development on irresponsible ownership and the lack of licensing laws in Alamance County.

“It could be that Elon students are taking animals in as pets and letting them go when summertime rolls around,” Michel said. “But most of them do a good job and will take them home.”

The bulk of the problem, she said, comes from owners who do not bother to spay or neuter their cats then let them run free.

According to the Humane Society, a pair of unaltered (unspayed or unneutered) cats can produce 420,000 offspring during the course of seven years.

“You have to take into account that cats can have three litters a year and how many kittens can be in a litter,” Michel said. “Dogs aren’t quite as prolific.”

Not surprisingly, Elon students have been known to take in abandoned litters or even full-grown cats they find living near dorm rooms and apartments.

Michel warns students to use caution when approaching any stray, having been bitten by a feral cat herself.

“You don’t know where they’ve been, what diseases they carry,” she said. “They can always call us. We’ll bring in a trap, which is basically a big cage with food, and catch the cat. If at all possible, we’ll put the animal up for adoption.”

Michel also encourages students to consider whether they’ll really have the time and resources to take in a stray as a pet.

“Cats can be more independent than dogs, but first consider whether your landlord will allow it,” she said. “Then you have to take it to the vet right away for vaccinations and rabies shots, which is state law.”

Burlington Animal Services is willing to help catch any strays reported in the area, although truly feral cats may have to be euthanized rather than put up for adoption. The euthanasia is humane and can be an alternative to the dangerous lives feral cats normally lead.

“People think that they can just turn these cats loose, but that’s not the case,” Michel said.

“They’re too domesticated. I would rather them be safely taken care of, even if they have to be put down in the end.”

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