OTTAWA — They have lived on the fringe of human civilization for thousands of years, surviving on our scraps and the rodents attracted to our refuse. Some cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians, deified and worshiped them. Others, like the Christians, demonized and hunted them.
Despite this rocky relationship, cats have always been a part of our lives before they were domesticated. After they became domesticated a new challenge to our relationship with cats arose: How to control the numbers of nondomesticated, feral and stray cats.
The Ottawa Issue
For the last several years residents of Ottawa, living mainly in the area of Perry and Third streets, have been having problems with a number of stray and feral cats living in the area, Mayor Dean Meyer said.
The topic has been passionately debated in multiple Village Council meetings. Some councilors argued for the trap-and-kill solution in order to solve the issue quickly. Others argued for the trap, neuter and return solution, which met with resistance because it doesn’t remove the cats from the area.
Village Council even considered creating new ordinances to punish both the people who care for the stray and feral cats and the people who dump pregnant cats or kittens within town limits.
“I’m pretty sure Ottawa isn’t the only place with this problem,” Meyer said. “I doubt anyone has found a perfect solution.”
Village Council has looked for local shelters to trap and remove the cats but none will, he said. Humane Society shelters normally don’t take animals from different counties.
Meyer said he has considered each alternative but each presents its own problems. If Village Council decided to trap and kill the cats it would be an immediate solution but he said he doesn’t want to take that option.
“I think there we would have an uproar,” Meyer said. “You have those wild animals, like raccoon and possums, people seem more OK with them being terminated. It’s different with dogs and cats. Those are pets.”
Creating ordinances to punish people feeding the cats has merit, Meyer said. However, it doesn’t take care of the problem of the feral and stray cats directly and there is the chance that person would just pay the fine and continue caring for the animals, he said.
Trap, neuter and return doesn’t quickly solve the cat population either, Meyer said.
Why a problem?
Cats are capable of breeding at as early as 4 to 6 months old and they can give birth to as many as eight kittens in a single pregnancy, said Laura Simmons, outreach coordinator for Humane Ohio.
Humane Ohio is an organization of veterinarians, veterinarian assistants and administrative staff who provide low-cost spaying, neutering and vaccinations for stray, feral and domesticated cats and dogs in the state. It also helps communities with stray and feral animal population issues by providing resources for TNR programs.
“Cats typically have three litters of kittens a year,” Simmons said. “Their population grow exponentially.”
Any female kitten from a litter can be able to breed as early as the mother and she can in turn have up to eight kittens in a litter.
This prolific breeding is why organizations such as Humane Ohio, local Humane Society shelters and veterinarians advocate having animals spayed or neutered.
Joan Frontz, an employee with the Henry County Humane Society in Napoleon, said she believes human indifference and lack of education plays a role in stray and feral animal population problems.
Frontz has worked at the Humane Society for years and in that time she has seen people abandon animals simply because they were too old.
“Everyone likes puppies and kittens because they’re cute and playful,” Frontz said. “But, when they get older people find out they’re hard work and dump them.”
A lot of the time the owners don’t get the animals spayed or neutered and vaccinated before abandoning them so now there’s a cat of breeding age dumped into the wild to get pregnant, she said.
The Henry County Humane Society is a no-kill shelter and formerly took stray and feral animals from neighboring counties, including Putnam County, but had to stop that practice, Frontz said.
“The waiting list got so long we had to limit surrenders to only Henry County,” she said.
Frontz said educating people is the only way to really stop the out-of-control population of stray and feral animals. Spay and neutering will help but people need to change, she said.
Trap, Neuter and Return
Trap, neuter and return is the population solution veterinarian professionals seem to support.
Ronald Baldridge from the Ottawa Veterinarian Clinic presented solutions to Ottawa Village Council during one of its meetings.
“My advice to council was trap, neuter and release,” Baldridge said. “That’s not an instant solution but we didn’t get the feral cat problem overnight either.”
Trapping and taking the cats away or killing them just opens the area up to another group of cats coming in, Baldridge said. Stray and feral cats move into an area because there are resources there they can survive on. When those animals are removed it doesn’t remove the resources so the area will just be repopulated. The idea behind TNR is the cats are stopped from overpopulating an area but by letting them stay they will protect that territory from invaders.
TNR is going with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t, said Aimee St. Arnaud with Humane Ohio.
During the TNR procedure, the cat has the tip of its left ear snipped off, while sedated, which insures anyone who sees the animal in the wild knows it has been fixed and vaccinated, Arnaud said.
TNR does take time to bring stray and feral populations under control. It is not an overnight solution It also costs $27 for spay or neuter, rabies vaccination and ear tipping through Humane Ohio. That can get expensive if there is a large cat population in an area.
In 2011-12, Stryker police Chief Steve Schlosser chose to use humane kill methods to deal with the stray and feral cat population.
“Do we spend $60 each or 5 cents for a .22 shell,” Schlosser said.
The decision on how to handle the situation was left to him, he said. That decision led to media attention. Someone’s pet cat was accidentally killed.
Since then, the Stryker council has created an ordinance that makes anyone caught feeding stray and feral cats responsible for them. If the animals wander onto another person’s property the caretaker is penalized and the animal could be picked up and taken to the Williams County Humane Society.
“I surely don’t believe anything has changed,” Schlosser said, adding the stray and feral cat population has stayed at the basically the same numbers as before. “There’s nothing wrong with learning from other people’s mistakes.”
Ottawa Council’s Decision
Meyer said during Monday’s Village Council meeting they decided to accept help from Humane Ohio. Humane Ohio will send a representative to Ottawa and will assess the situation, he said. The organization will determine the number of stray and feral cats in the village, loan live traps if needed, and work with locals who care for the cats.
“We decided to go with Humane Ohio because we felt it was the best choice for the community,” Meyer said.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362.