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Judy Harmon plays with two of the feral kittens she fosters in her home in Athens, Ohio on September 26, 2015. She captures and rehabilitates young cats to ready them for eventual adoption. 

Local organization helps feral cats through trap and release program

Athens Community Cats has neutered or placed about forty wild cats, but many remain at risk.

According to members of a local organization, a worrying number of feral cats prowl the Ohio University campus and the streets of Athens.

“It seems that where there’s a dumpster with food, there’s a feral cat,” Sheryl Bush, member of Athens Community Cats, said.

Athens Community Cats, a group aimed at helping rectify that issue, started in February, when the Athens County Humane Society contacted Bush and two other community members about starting an organization to protect the well-being of the community’s feral cat population. Bush and other members feed the feral cats, trap tame cats and kittens for adoption, and neuter and release feral adult cats.

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“We’ve spayed, neutered and released or placed almost 40 cats,” Bush said. “Right now there are about 100 more that we know about.”

Bush said the group often relies on outside resources such as the RASCAL Unit based in Dublin. According to its website, the RASCAL Unit, a mobile veterinary clinic that provides affordable spaying and neutering, spays cats for $45 and neuters them for $35.

A cornerstone of Athens Community Cats is its Trap-Neuter-Release program, or TNR. Volunteers trap cats, neuter them and release them back into their territory. Any strays or kittens go up for adoption, Bush said.

While the group is open to helping any type of cat, it mainly focuses on spaying and neutering feral cats, which are cats that grow up in the wild and live in colonies, Bush said.

Those cats reduce local rodent populations, but some people dislike living next to them because they leave smelly excrements or disturb the peace with noisy fighting and mating behaviors. They sometimes carry diseases that transfer to humans or free-roaming outside cats, such as rabies or feline leukemia, according to the ASPCA website.

Left to their own devices, feral cats might live about two years if they survive kittenhood, according to the ASPCA website. However, in colonies managed by a caretaker — someone who feeds, neuters and oversees local wild cats — they can survive 10 years.

Seth Neudecker, a freshman studying pre-media, said he had some experience with feral cats back home.

“I personally have fed cats before, and over time they’ve become a little less feral,” Neudecker, who is from a rural area north of Dayton, said.

Humans can also be a threat, though, because they try to cull local populations.

“Some methods that hard-hearted people use, like poisoning, are horrible ways to die,” Bush said. “They’re long and drawn out.”

The stray and feral cats also breed rapidly with kitten season lasting from late spring to early fall and females often having more than one litter. Cats reach sexual maturity as early as four months, Bush said, so kittens born in the first wave of litters might have litters of their own by the end of the season.

Neutered feral cats lead healthier lives — they roam less, suffer fewer injuries from territory fights, gain weight more easily and are less susceptible to certain cancers, according to the ASPCA website.

Locals can better coexist with neutered feral cats because they’re less territorial, so they don’t fight as often or spray urine to mark their territory and they don’t engage in mating behaviors, Bush said.

Neutering cats also provides an opportunity to vaccinate them against diseases, Bush said.

Briana Olsakovsky, a freshman studying media arts and sciences, said she had reservations about intervening in the lives of wild cats.

“It seems to me that neither neutering or euthanasia are great options, but neutering seems like a better choice than killing them,” Olsakovsky said. “They’re wild animals. I feel like we shouldn’t bother them.”

TNR also saves the lives of unadoptable cats who would otherwise be euthanized. Once a cat becomes an adult feral, it is very difficult to tame them.

“We don’t consider them lost causes,” Bush said. “They’re just happier in the wild. They’re very stressed being indoors and around people.”

The sheer number of feral cats also makes taming all of them unfeasible. Shelters already have trouble keeping up with the relinquished cats and strays people turn in. There simply aren’t enough homes for all of these cats.

Athens Cat Shelter closed around 2005 — low volunteer morale may have contributed, Bush said. Since the closure of Athens Cat Shelter, Athens has had no cat shelter. Although the Athens Humane Society offers cats for adoption, they adopt those out of foster homes.

“One day, 25 kittens were dropped off and one worker had to euthanize every one of them,” Bush said, recounting a story that a volunteer had told her. “Morale was very low, as you can imagine.”


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