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City Park isn't a cat sanctuary

September 19, 2006

Elsewhere on this page, Brenda Shane of Williamsport takes us to task for opposing her support of a feral (undomesticated) cat colony in Hagerstown's City Park.

Her letter said that the editor should do research before commenting.

As it happens, we have looked at some of the research. And, much of it does indicate that a cat colony whose members have been spayed, neutered and vaccinated poses little health risk to humans.

But that is only true if membership remains constant, according to state park officials in California, where it is illegal to dump a domestic animal on park land.

In a 2005 statement aimed at discouraging this practice, park officials said that while those such as Shane mean well with their colony-management ideas, the systems they use don't always work as planned.

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Why? Because, park officials, say, "Cats will continue to be dumped where people think they will be fed. Catching all cats before they reproduce is impossible, so the number of cats increases."

Even if fed, park officials said studies have found that a typical housecat allowed to go outdoors kills more than 50 birds or small mammals a year. That would seem to put baby waterfowl at risk.

City Park was never envisioned as a site for the rescue of feral cats. There might be some doubt about whether cats or groundhogs are responsible for the flea infestation that forced the temporary closing of the Mansion House art gallery there, but to our knowledge, no one is feeding the groundhogs.

In addition, groundhogs are not domestic animals. And, as California park officials said, domestic animals don't belong in our parks, any more than Africa's big cats belong in suburban back yards.

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