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Watch your step, Feral cats make walking risky in Helper

Cats cannot be fenced in or out, so the world is open range to them.
Councilman Robert Bradley offers a compromise to Sue Ann Martell. She should review the proposed animal control ordinance and come up with feasible recommendations.

By JOHN SERFUSTINI
Sun Advocate associate editor

The latest cat tale out of Helper comes from Kirk Mascaro, a city councilman. It's about the rescue of a handful of little kittens and it strays into the bigger issue of the feral cat population in the city.

Mascaro was enjoying a family outing in the little park at 100 West and Locust streets Friday night when a brief downpour drenched them. His son-in-law, who lives nearby, decided to walk home and change into a dry shirt. Within minutes, the son-in-law raced back unchanged and panted, "I need your help. I can hear kittens but I can't find them."

They searched and found the little guys nearly drowned, hung up in debris in a storm drain. They pulled out five. Three of them looked okay, although soaked.

"But two of them were having trouble breathing. They were gasping," Mascaro said. "So what did I do? Mouth-to-nose resuscitation." It worked.

"Does that look like I hate cats? No," he declared. "But feral cats? I don't know. Something has to be done."

It doesn't take an intensive search to find evidence of the problem. While the city's paved areas - sidewalks and streets - are poop-free, the same cannot be said for lawns, gardens, alleyways and bare areas. It is a good idea to keep one's eyes downcast and focused on the ground when crossing stretches not covered with asphalt or concrete.

"Any place where the ground is soft and there's food available, you'll find it," the councilman said.

Free food is available at humanitarian feeding stations, with loose soil nearby. Sue Ann Martell told the city council last week that she and her husband support no fewer than three feral cat communities at stations around town. But those al fresco dining establishments are not without a hassle for the patrons. The cats are trapped. They are taken to a veterinarian, where they go in as boy or girl and come out as neither, and vaccinated, Martell explained. The food is spiked with antibiotics, too.

"Our cats may be the healthiest ones in Helper," she stated. She also said that the areas around the stations are routinely cleaned of cat droppings, some human droppings and a few used hypodermic needles. The cats also leave trophies of freshly-killed pigeons, mice and river rats at the stations.

Martell was speaking as a concerned citizen because the council had a proposed new animal control ordinance on the agenda. The city has been grappling with the issues of pets and pets gone wild for several years now, trying to find some balance between the interests of those who love cats and those who might tolerate them if it weren't for the feces.

There is no such thing as a simple solution. Trapping, for example, captures innocent housecats along with the wild ones. Cat lovers, some near tears, have told the council at previous meetings that is not acceptable. Limiting the number of cats per household is also not feasible because how does anyone take a cat census when the critters are so mobile?

While humanitarian efforts are admirable, councilman Robert Bradley noted, "By feeding them, you are increasing the carrying capacity of the environment." That means more feral cats.

On the other hand, Martell countered, without the capture-sterilize-release program at the feeding stations, there's a threat of a bigger population explosion.

Bradley suggested a compromise. He referred to the city's success with a recent ordinance allowing but regulated chicken raising in Helper. That came about because of citizen recommendations and participation.

"So let's put the burden on you," he told Martell as he handed her a copy of the proposed ordinance. "Come back with something workable."

She agreed.




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