Lucy Benson and Kelly Gibson, both McDaniel juniors, were walking down Pennsylvania Avenue one day when they heard meowing and saw some kittens under a porch.
“I was so happy to see them,” Benson said. “They were cute. I was also concerned, though. We tried to get closer to them to see how many there were, but the mommy cat didn’t seem to trust us.”
Campus Safety was contacted about the kittens, but the Director of Campus Safety, James Hamrick, does not recall hearing about kittens found on campus. He also does not recall any feral cat issues being reported. If an issue were to be reported, Campus Safety would contact Animal Control.
Feral cats are an issue in Carroll County and the United States in general.
The Humane Society estimates the feral cat population in the United States to be in the tens of millions. The cats come from lost domesticated or outdoor cats that have kittens who then grow up outside a home.
They prey on wild animals, their life expectancy is only about two years, and they run the risk of carrying rabies and other diseases.
The cats gather around food sources in groups called colonies. Some colonies have caretakers, or people that leave them food and shelter against rain and cold. The cats can cause many problems within communities.
Bryan Kortis, the Executive Director of Neighborhood Cats, a group based in New York City, told the Humane Society in a video published in 2012, “[With] these consequences…including the impact on local animal shelters, public health concerns about disease and quality of life complaints, wildlife predation, and the cats’ own welfare, it becomes clear that feral cat overpopulation is a significant public policy issue that needs to be addressed.”
Animal shelters take responsibilities for feral cats brought in from the wild, which places financial strain on them to keep the kittens and put them up for adoption and also to euthanize adult cats that cannot be adopted, a practice that many people are against.
“I briefly volunteered in a cat shelter about four years ago, and it was amazing how many cats were in there, so I would say America does have a problem,” McDaniel student Benson says.
Although rabies and other diseases aren’t commonly transferred to humans by feral cats, it is still a health concern that community officials need to consider.
Maryland does not have a statewide policy on how to address feral cats, and Carroll County “does not have restrictions on the number of cats a person may own or the number of cats a person may feed outside their home,” according to Nicky Ratliff, the former Director of the Humane Society of Carroll County, in a report from the Maryland government on feral cats.
In an article for the Carroll County Times last December, Ratliff stated that the biggest problem in Carroll County right now is cats.
“That is a heartbreaking situation, but we have no licensing of cats, and most of the counties in Maryland do,” Ratliff said. “I am absolutely in favor of licensing cats and laws governing the restraint of cats, but the problem is my current staff and this current facility could not accommodate that.”
According to the Humane Society, the best way to control populations is TNR: Trap, Neuter, and Release, as opposed to Trap and Remove, which results in euthanizing cats, or No Feed laws, since those that feed cats resist such actions.
“I really don’t believe in euthanizing animals unless they are in a lot of pain and there is no cure,” says Benson.
Unlike trap and remove, caretakers and other cat-friendly people are not resistant to TNR, and it reduces the number of litters feral cats can have.
“Shelters that are dealing with Animal Control are going to be the most strongly influenced [by trap and remove] because Animal Control will receive complaints from the neighbors and they will go out and trap cats and bring them into the shelter,” Margaret R. Slater, Ph.D., a veterinarian, told the Humane Society in the aforementioned video.
“Those feral cats that come in can’t be adopted and most of them are either held for a short time or euthanized immediately. So there’s a large cost involved in going out, handling the complaint, trapping the cat, bringing it in, euthanizing it, and disposing of the body.”
If cats are simply removed from the streets, other cats will take over the then-open territory and keep having litters, which makes trap and remove a never ending cycle.
By neutering the cats and releasing them, the neutered cats have better tempers, keep their territories so that other cats don’t move in, do not have more litters, and will slowly die of natural causes.
Caretakers also monitor the colonies to see if any new cats join so that those cats can be neutered as well.
TNR has been proven to reduce feral cat populations, so if it ever becomes a big enough issue in Carroll County or on campus, it would be worth it to invest the money to take such measures.