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Paws to reconsider

Threatened with eviction, feral cats may stay at park

Threatened with eviction, feral cats may stay at park

September 14, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Brenda Shane has played mother hen to a feral cat colony at Hagerstown City Park for 10 years, feeding them every day she can get there.

So, she was upset when she heard the city would battle fleas at the park's Mansion House by getting rid of the cats.

Initially, Junior Mason, the city's parks superintendent, said last week that the Humane Society of Washington County probably would remove the cats and look for homes for them at shelters.

In a follow-up interview, he said the city instead might simply catch some or all of the cats, treat their flea problems and return them to the park.

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By Wednesday, the cat-removal plan had been canceled.

Mason said the city closed off the Mansion House porch and had the inside and outside sprayed. The house, the Valley Art Association's headquarters, is expected to reopen this weekend.

Shane, who lives near Williamsport, said keeping the cats at the park is "a nonlethal form of population control."

Although the cats are wild, they previously were caught, spayed or neutered, and brought back to the park. She said the premise is that the feral cat colony, which can't reproduce, is territorial and will keep out other strays, which can reproduce.

Shane said the 12 or 13 cats in the colony have been unfairly targeted as flea carriers.

A Maryland wildlife official disagreed with the "closed colony" population-control theory.

Cats are solitary and won't necessarily drive away other cats, said Glenn Therres, the associate director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife and Heritage Service.

He said the state frowns upon introducing non-native species, such as domestic cats, into the wild.

Cats might hunt birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians at the park because "all predators kill animals for a living," Therres said.

When The Herald-Mail ran a news brief last week about plans to remove the cats to get rid of the fleas, a few people wrote or called the newspaper to object. They said other wild animals with fleas might be the real problem.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh wondered why the city suddenly would focus on cats that have been there for years.

About three or four years ago, Shane said, the colony was twice as large - too large, according to the city. About a dozen cats were moved to homes elsewhere, such as small farms, she said.

But, thinning the colony is different than eliminating it. If the colony is banished, other wild cats will move in, she said.

Alley Cat Allies, a Bethesda, Md., group, says at its Web site that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) "turns a feral cat colony into a managed colony, whose members can live safe, healthy, sterile lives without the dangers and hardship of constant breeding."

Paul Miller, the humane society's executive director, said the control rationale makes sense. He agreed that wild animals fill voids left by other animals.

Miller, who suspects groundhogs as the flea culprits, was surprised to read in the newspaper that the Humane Society would trap and remove the cats; he said he hadn't agreed to that. Even catching and treating cats for fleas would be difficult, he said.

Shane, a credit analyst for Hagerstown Trust, didn't intend to become the cats' caretaker 10 years ago; it just happened.

As a Frostburg State University accounting student, she'd sit in her car at the park and study. She met a man who fed the cats, then took over because he had another colony to care for.

"It doesn't matter what my passion is," Shane said. "My belief is TNR is the best solution."

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