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Panel tries to wrap paws around cat issue

Charles Pritchard
Staff writer
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Posted 2/28/20

ONEIDA — Herding cats is a tall prospect but the special committee on feral cats in the city of Oneida sunk its claws into the problem with an educational meeting and a brainstorming session. At …

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Panel tries to wrap paws around cat issue

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ONEIDA — Herding cats is a tall prospect but the special committee on feral cats in the city of Oneida sunk its claws into the problem with an educational meeting and a brainstorming session.

At the Feb. 18 Common Council meeting, Mayor Helen Acker officially appointed the committee to address the feral cat problem in the city of Oneida. The committee is comprised of Ward 1 Councilor Carrie Earl, Ward 3 Councilor Jim Coulthart, Ward 3 resident Brian Bowtree, Ward 3 resident Gary Pantzer, and Ward 3 resident and CNY SPCA Educator Dee Schaefer.

A public information meeting was held on Thursday, Feb. 27 not as a place to air grievances and tell “war stories”, as Coulthart put it but to educate the public and find solutions.

“We’re looking for suggestions and strong ideas on how to solve this,” Coulthart said. The ward 3 councilor turned the floor over to Schaefer to outline the issue and how to control the cat population.

“I’m certified to teach humane education through the Academy of Pro-Social Learning. I’m on the national registry of humane educators. I’m a member of the Association of Professional Humane Educators. And I’m a member of the Humane Education Coalition,” Schaefer said. “And just [recently], I was asked to speak at the national conference of the Association of Humane Educators in 2021. So I’m well qualified to speak on this.”

Schaefer said she lives in Oneida and wants to see something done for the feral cat problem but done humanely.

“The first thing I have to say is to spay and neuter your cats,” Schaefer said. “Everybody brings home a cute fluffy kitten and in five months, that cat is ready to have babies. Cats can have babies every 63 days.”

Schaefer said the CNY SPCA has a low-cost spay and neuter clinic available to those living in Onondaga, Madison, and Oneida Counties. Wanderers’ Rest has options for those who may have issues spaying and neutering their cats as well and Spay/Neuter Syracuse offers assistance as well.

The key to reducing the feral cat population, Schaefer said is “Trap-Neuter-Release”. Local volunteers trap feral cats and take them to a local vet to be spayed or neutered and they are released back where they were found. By doing this, no new cats move into the area and no new kittens are born.

“A lot of people seem to think the solution is to trap the cats and euthanize them,” Schaefer said. “That’s not the solution. When you trap a feral cat and euthanize it, that opens up a hole in that colony and creates a vacuum. By releasing feral cats that have been fixed back into their colony, you’re going to keep other cats out and in two to three years, the colony will eventually decline.”

Schaefer said the CNY SPCA will be able to take four to six feral cats a month from Oneida to be spayed or neutered to be released back into the colony. At the moment, she said, the CNY SPCA is still working to determine a cost for this.

Tractor Supply in Oneida has donated four cat traps that will be available to volunteers to help trap cats. Ideally, Schaefer said, the cats would be caught on a Wednesday and brought to the CNY SPCA on Thursday morning and returned that same afternoon. Bowtree said the plan is to have people pick up the traps at the police department and leave a deposit, which will be returned upon the return of the trap.

On the subject of feeding the feral cats, Schaefer said those who are feeding a cat colony should make sure to pick up any uneaten food as not to attract pests and other animals.

“Uneaten food should be left out no longer than 30 minutes,” she said. “Be cognizant of your neighbors. Cats typically don’t use the bathroom near their food source so that leaves your neighbor’s yard. If you are feeding, move the feeding station away from your neighbor’s home.”

Coulthart wasn’t in complete agreement with Schaefer about feeding the feral cats and expressed his opinion that it would be better to not have Oneida residents feed them at all. Schaefer disagreed, saying that the cats should be fed during the cold winter months due to a lack of food.

“The thing is, the free buffet is open to skunks, raccoons, foxes, and fishers,” Coulthart said. “This is what happens and so people understand, we do not have the resources in the city nor is it advised that we do a dragnet on all the cats because of what Dee said in terms of the hierarchy.”

Bowtree put forth the idea of limiting one person in an area to feeding the cats and doing so in a controlled manner.

Linda Shaffer, founder of Operation Wild Cats, was present at the meeting and offered traps to be used for the TNR program.

“We’re another resource here in Madison County,” Shaffer said. “You can get a hold of me through Village Vet and Facebook.”

One resident said they were unaware that Shaffer was still working in the city of Oneida. Shaffer said she was on “... a bit of a hiatus last year” due to personal reasons but is now back. “It’s something I can’t walk away from,” she said.

Earl said while the city of Oneida is working with the CNY SPCA to help spay and neuter cats, she asked the audience to look into other vets and organizations that can help in any way and encouraged them to contact the city council.

One suggestion that was floated around was the possible licensing of cats in the city of Oneida. Through the licensing of cats, people would need to be more responsible and there could be a possible reduction in license costs should the animal be spayed or neutered — as many counties require people with unaltered pets to pay higher license renewal fees. This would also help differentiate outdoor cats from feral cats.

Michelle Finn, of Finnland’s, said they have just started microchipping and have found it to be reasonably priced and offered it as a possible alternative.

Finn said when cats are trapped, the first thing that is done is to scan for a microchip. “Instead of licensing, microchipping may be better,” she said. “Once they’re trapped, spayed or neutered, we can microchip them instead of licensing because of a lot of people, including dog owners, don’t license.”

Another Oneida resident asked what the city could do about vacant homes that are serving as shelters for cat colonies. Earl said the city is always working on securing vacant homes.

“I want everyone to keep in mind that this is a process,” Earl said. “This isn’t going to be solved overnight or in a month. It’s a three to five-year process to do this not only the right way but the humane way. But one of the things that we can do, as the city, is to look into things like policy and codes. For you, as a community, I’d say start sharing with your neighbors what you should be doing to help the population start to decrease.”

Coulthart said the city of Oneida will not be involved with the capture of the feral cats. “This is going to be a private initiative and volunteer-driven,” he said.

“In two to three years, we will see a decline in feral cat numbers,” Schaefer said. “At the SPCA, we have been [performing TNR] for the last three years and within the last two years, the number of feral cats coming into our clinic to be fixed are getting lower, and lower, and lower. It works. It’s humane. And it’s something I can live with.”

Oneida resident Richard Dingman said he attended the meeting because his wife takes care of a colony in her backyard. “She’s trapped and fixed about 16 cats in the past three years out of her own pocket,” he said. “She takes care of them and feeds them. I build shelters so they can survive the winters.”

Dingman said the situation is difficult but felt the meeting was a good start with a lot of good ideas. “The city of Oneida is listening and knows there’s a problem and something needs to be done,” Dingman said. “Personally, I think microchipping is a good idea. But with all the ferals out there, we got to get them trapped and fixed. If we don’t do something, we’re going to have thousands of them.”

Acker was in attendance and felt the meeting went extremely well.

“I’m very happy to see all the residents come out and discuss the problem,” Acker said. “It’s a start. It’s the first time we’ve done this, but I think there will be more meetings and more discussion.”

To learn more about Wanderers’ Rest and their spay/neuter program, visit www.wanderersrest.org

To learn more about the CNY SPCA low cost spay/neuter clinic, email vetcenter@cnyspca.org for more information.

To learn more about Spay/Neuter Syracuse, visit their website at www.spayandneutersyracuse.com

To contact Ward 1 Councilor Carrie Earl, call 315-225-7010 or email cearl@oneidacity.com

To contact Ward 3 Councilor Jim Coulthart, call 315-363-4151 or email jcoulthart@oneidacity.com

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