By JAMES BELL
While the beloved house cat can be a rewarding companion in the home, too much of any good thing is almost always a problem.
While some enjoy the company of cats inside the home and out, cities across the region are struggling to tackle a growing cat population, a problem that is likely to become worse unless measures are taken to stem the tide of rising feral cat populations.
“It’s throughout the state,” said Betty Hansen, manager of the Humane Society of the High Plains. “We get so many calls from these small towns about their feral cat population. It just keeps growing and growing.”
Ellis is among those cities reeling from citizen concerns. During a recent work session, the city council discussed the problem and possible solutions with Hays Animal Control Officer Nikki Hausler.
“The most important thing that I can tell you is that if you continue to do nothing, that is the absolute worst thing you could do,” she told the council.
But by no means is it a problem exclusive to Ellis.
"Even in Hays, there is a tremendous amount of ferals,” Hansen said.
“It’s a problem everywhere, not just in our county,” she said. “In all the surrounding counties, we get calls almost every day.”
But combating the problem can be difficult — and expensive.
“They can multiply so quickly it makes the situation almost unbearable,” Hansen said.
Part of the reason for the high cost is a very low percentage of animals getting returned to the owners, Hausler said.
“Over an eight-year period, we impounded over 2,240 cats (in Hays),” she said, noting only about 5 percent of impounded cats are claimed.
She estimated around $35,000 per year is spent on control feral cats in Hays alone.
In the city of Ellis, where there is no city cat registration, the problem is compounded even more, as some residents take on feeding neighborhood cats, with little ability to regulate populations in a neighborhood.
While cities like Hays can spend money to help control the problem, smaller towns without a dedicated group of animal control officers, the cost can be prohibitive.
“Cats are going to be very expensive,” Hausler said. “They probably make up 70 percent of the cost (of animal control) to the city of Hays.”
Animal shelters such as the Humane Society of the High Plains do not take feral cats, leaving tough choices for city leaders wanting to control the cat populations.
“The problem is if you start trapping you are going to have to have an animal control officer, or somebody that is willing to drive them to the vet clinics,” Hausler said.
Ellis Mayor Dave McDaniel said he had no desire for Ellis police officers or public works employees to be responsible for trapping and transporting feral cats.
And a part-time person is also problematic, due to the continuing need to monitor the traps.
“It’s a really tough situation, and I don’t know if it ever going to get fixed,” Hansen said.
No perfect solutions
While there are options for controlling the feral cat populations, none are a perfect solution — and some are simply illegal.
Within city limits where the populations are problematic, individuals trapping the animals for release outside the area is considered animal abandonment and is prohibited.
It is also illegal for citizens to kill the animals.
“Not only is it illegal to shoot in town, it is also cruelty to animals,” Hausler said.
A method that is gaining popularity is what is commonly referred to as Trap-Neuter-Return-Monitor and is likely the best option.
"TNRM is the method of humanely trapping community cats, having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies, and then returning them to their colony to live out their lives," according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In theory, those cats then do not reproduce and keep other cats from entering the area, creating what is referred to as a cat colony.
But again this method of control is costly and requires dedicated staff to implement.
In Hays since 2009, 309 cats have been released through the program, with a limit set to five cats in a neighborhood at a cost of about $100 per cat.
“So it’s pretty costly,” Hausler said.
The location of a cat colony is also a concern, and the number of neighbors that need to sign off on it can become problematic.
“If there is anybody (in the neighborhood) that absolutely despises cats, then we can’t help,” Hausler said.
People moving in and out of the colony areas also can cause problems, if the colony is not wanted by a new resident, she said.
Trapped feral cats can also be released into the county when done properly and can be beneficial.
Hausler said some veterinarians can work with local farmers to move the cats to the country, but there is still a cost associated with leaving a cat with a local veterinarian to be placed on a farm.
The work of trapping cats for either community TNRM or farm placement should be handled by a professional if possible, Hausler said, adding to the cost of control.
Humane Society of the High Plains offers cat specials to alleviate full shelter
Even without taking in feral cats, the Humane Society is currently working to place cats that are currently in the shelter.
“Right now, we are completely full,” Hansen said.
In an effort to create room in the shelter and place cats the society is currently running a special — one cat for $15 or two for $25 with a spay or neuter deposit of $50.
The society only works with domesticated cats, due to the inability to tame a feral cat.
“There is no reasoning with a feral cat, nothing but claws and jaws,” Hansen said.
Hansen said that is a primary reason they continually share the importance of spaying and neutering pets and keeping pets that are not fixed inside.
There are currently three litters in the facility and 25 kittens on a waiting list made up of only six or seven litters.
The influx of cats this late in the year has been a surprise at the shelter, Hansen said.
“It’s odd this year because we are really seeing the cats coming in a lot later than normal,” she said.
From May to June, the shelter typically sees an influx of cats, tapering off by fall.
“Now were are seeing the influx that we normally see in late spring,” Hansen said.
“The cat situation has us kind of confused this year,” she said.