Warmer weather brings out feral cats

Some say their growing population creates hygiene and safety problems.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Ah, the caterwauling on a chilly night that keeps you up till dawn, the trash scattered from torn garbage bags spewed on your lawn. The joys of the unfriendly Columbia feral cats are here once again, particularly with warmer weather approaching. But the nuisance extends beyond their presence and is starting to raise questions of safety and hygiene.

Patty Forister, executive director of the Central Missouri Humane Society, suggests these felines’ anti-social behavior is due to a lack of human interaction and, in turn, socialization. It’s a problem not just for residents of Columbia, but also the cats.

“Kids can try to pick up these cats and get bitten. These cause more infections than a dog injury,” Forister said.

Jack Horton, a retired veterinarian who worked with small animals for 35 years, said, “There’s nobody to take care of them; they can spread disease. Everybody should have someone to look after them.”

Horton explained how these cats are exposed to the elements, making them prone to diseases and illnesses.

“Like homeless people, I expect that their life spans are a little shorter than everyone else’s,” Horton said.

Rest assured, Columbia’s kitty problem is not going unrecognized.

“We are aware of some issues with cat problems that the current ordinance as it is written doesn’t give us latitude to act on,” said Jerry Worley, who, as the Columbia health department’s environmental health manager, is responsible for the animal control division.

Worley said that dogs are required to be on a leash, but there are no requirements for cats.

“One of the issues that we have with the cats is being able to recognize whether it belongs to someone or whether it’s feral. Sometimes that isn’t easy to discern,” he said.

Forister listed the problems that these cats face and the problems they cause.

She said feral cats can hurt themselves by climbing under the hoods of cars, running in front of moving vehicles or encountering other non-cat-friendly animals. If they are not properly cared for, cats can become ill and spread disease.

“We don’t have any active programs right now on cats because it’s not violating the ordinance as it’s currently written. Being off the owner’s property, we have no reason to catch them,” Worley said.

There is a program developed independently by a group called Columbia Second Chance.

“Our focus is to spay and neuter feral cat colonies,” said Daria Kerridte, who works with the program. Describing the program, Kerridte said, “It grew out of concerned people who have been a part of Columbia Second Chance for many years.”

The program has been active for six months and is seeking money from the city, according to Kerridte.

Worley said the Columbia/Boone County Health Department does provide free traps to help catch cats. The health department then recommends the cats be taken to the humane society. Forister said that because of the large number of cats caught, the Central Missouri Humane Society has a 30 percent adoption rate.

“We, as an arm of Columbia Second Chance, are encouraging the greater public of Columbia to spay and neuter their companion animals. This in itself will reduce the amount of feral cats we find in all of Columbia,” Kerridte said.

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