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Stray cats present risks

2012-03-28T23:59:00Z 2012-07-12T12:25:53Z Stray cats present risksJAMIE MUNKS -- jmunks@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star
March 28, 2012 11:59 pm  • 

Stray cats can be a nuisance for residents, a challenge for municipalities and a health risk for people and their pets, but controlling free-roaming felines is no easy task because of a lack of regulations at local and state levels.

“It’s common for people to see a cute little kitten and they feed it and pick it up. But they live with other cats out in the wild and get into scuffles with wild animals,” said Christa Berthiaume, rabies coordinator for Washington County. “There’s no way of knowing what kind of exposure they’ve had.”

Now as local public health departments begin holding their annual rabies vaccination clinics, health officials are emphasizing that people should be cautious around stray and wild animals. When it comes to both rabies and stray populations, cats are different from dogs in several ways. Municipalities are required by law to have animal control officers, but they deal in large part with dogs and usually don’t pursue cat complaints.

Rabies vaccinations are also required for a dog to be licensed, so positive canine rabies cases are rare. But cats don’t require licenses, so rabies vaccinations are much more difficult to track in cats than dogs.

Cats are also more likely to roam and hunt, coming into contact with wild animals and increasing the chances of rabies exposure. The number of free-roaming cats has also increased over time, and an unspayed and unchecked stray cat can have many litters of kittens over its lifetime — up to three litters per year.

“Of course (feral cats) reproduce like crazy. We always suggest don’t feed them or take them in,” Berthiaume said. “That’s where we look for help from the towns but there’s no regulation there either — I think a lot of people don’t want to get into that.”

Once you start feeding a stray animal, according to state animal law, “it’s yours,” said Warren County rabies coordinator Pat Belden.

Even though cats don’t require licenses like dogs, state public health law states that cats must be vaccinated. Vaccinations are important even for indoor cats because rabies exposures are still possible. If a bat gets into the house, the cat’s instinct is to chase and kill it, Belden said.

“People are good about getting their dogs vaccinated, but there’s still a lot of people who don’t know they need to with cats,” she said.

Saratoga County Public Health Director Karen Levison said last year there were 591 animal bite cases in the county, and of the cases tested for rabies, there were 12 positive tests.

In both Warren and Washington counties last year, there were zero and five confirmed rabies cases respectively, which officials agree are relatively low numbers. In Washington County, four of the positive cases came from wildlife, and the fifth was a cat. The number of confirmed positive cases decreased from 20 in 2010, which were mostly wildlife, as well as one cat, one sheep and one horse.

But the decrease in cases between those two years doesn’t mean rabies is going away — it’s likely that other rabid specimens weren’t available to be sent in for testing, Berthiaume said.

It’s difficult for officials to identify rabies trends, because the only time they test for rabies is if human exposure is suspected. If someone reports that a raccoon in their yard is acting strangely, officials would advise them just to leave it alone, and that animal wouldn’t be tested.

So far this year in Washington County, a steer tested positive for rabies. Warren County has already had a confirmed rabid cat case this year, in Queensbury. The last confirmed rabid cat case in the county was in 2007, Belden said.

The three local counties hold regular rabies clinics where residents can take cats, dogs and ferrets to be vaccinated. Warren County’s clinics have been getting good turnout so far this year, and at Washington County’s first clinic of the year, held Saturday in Salem, about 150 animals were vaccinated, Berthiaume said.

The clinics are held in various locations throughout each county during the spring, summer and fall months. Rabies is not exclusive to a time of year, but more rabies investigations take place during warmer months because people and pets tend to spend more time outside and bats are out, including juvenile bats that are learning to fly and may bump into people in the process, Berthiaume said.

Nuisances, too

Aside from the mortal danger of rabies, stray cat populations can create nuisances for municipalities and residents. A recent Hudson Falls village newsletter said the village has been receiving complaints from residents about cats. The mailing reminded residents to keep their pet cats indoors or on their property, to respect their neighbors and reminded cat owners they can be fined up to $200 for cats that aren’t vaccinated for rabies.

Village resident Roger Wells has a problem with stray cats coming on his property and spraying, which unneutered male cats do to mark their territory. Wells burns wood to heat his home, and the cats spray on the wood in his shed, in his garage and on his porch. The cats usually come in the middle of the night and the spraying leaves a strong odor on his property, long after they leave. When the cats spray on the wood, the stench is so bad he can’t use the wood or bring it inside for weeks, Wells said.

“It’s just about every night, wherever they feel like it,” he said. “I have nothing against cats but when they start violating my property so I can’t use it — I can’t go out on the porch sometimes because it smells so bad.”

Wells approached the Village Board at a recent meeting about the issue, but Mayor John Barton said there’s no easy fix.

Frank Diamond, the animal control officer for the village and the town of Kingsbury, said he does get cat complaint calls, but his workload would be about five times its current size if he was also responsible for felines.

“Cats are more of a free-roaming type animal and can become feral, whereas dogs depend on people for food and contact,” Diamond said. “With cats, there would be a lot more work.”

Stray cats are pets that have been lost or abandoned, and feral cats are the offspring of stray or other feral cats, which aren’t used to people, and are often fearful of them. Diamond estimates about 90 percent of stray dogs he encounters are adoptable, but stray cats would be more likely to be skittish around people.

Cats are allowed to roam unless restricted by a local law, and Granville Dog Control Officer Ray Boyea said he isn’t aware of such a law anywhere in this area. The only time Boyea would usually deal with cats is if one were suspected to have rabies, or with the occasional animal cruelty case, he said.

If people call Boyea with complaints about cats, he tells them to take photos of any damage caused to property and take the cat’s owner to small claims court — but that’s about the only recourse, he said.

“If you call and say there are three cats running loose in my yard, there’s not much we can do about that,” Boyea said.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(23) Comments

  1. Tsteino
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    Tsteino - March 13, 2015 9:57 am
    It is not okay to let your pets wander the neighborhood. I'm afraid the cat people are misunderstanding. They see the lack of laws/enforcement pertaining to felines as a supporting point to continue excusing their obviously poor and irresponsible pet ownership tactics. The fact is, the lack of regulation is not at all because stray cats don't cause problems or damage, it's because they cause way too many problems. I personally watched an entire cul-de-sac with a bad feral problem completely crumble because of the cats - rampant illness, plummeting home values, contamination, an unbearably strong odor, abandoned properties, and eventually, many of the home owners were forced to file for bankruptcy.

    So don't act like it's not a problem. Take responsibility for your animals. Keeping a pet indoors is the best method of care. If you love your pet, you love it enough to let it live with you. It's not ok for any other pet to roam free, so stop fooling yourselves. It's NOT ok for cats either.
  2. Ana
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    Ana - July 08, 2014 11:05 am
    I lived for 20 years in the Adirondacks before moving to Glens Falls, NY. We had a terrible ferral cat problem in the town I used to live in the Adirondacks that started with just 2 unspayed/unneutered cats owned by an old man. It was amazing how those two cats reproduced and then their offspring reproduced with the cats that belonged to people in the area who allowed their cats to roam. Before you know it there were literally dozens of stray cats around. The only solution that worked was a trap, spay/neuter release. The neighbors all chipped in and worked with a local vet to get this done at as low a cost as possible. The vet also notched the ear so that we would know which cats were given their shots and spayed/neutered. Winters are tough in the Adirondacks and little by little, with the program we set up, the population declined. A month before I moved to Glens Falls the last feral cat passed away that brutal winter. That's what we need in G.F.
  3. Wstarcat
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    Wstarcat - January 16, 2013 10:03 am
    A neighbor moved and left their small spayed female. I felt bad for the kitty and started feeding her only on my enclosed screen porch. I now have two other males hanging around, fighting and meowing at all hours of the night and spraying everywhere. I can't bring the small female inside. Any suggestions for continuing to discreetly feed the female and get the males to go away?
  4. OldGuy
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    OldGuy - April 01, 2012 9:40 am
    I guess I just must be lucky where I live in Fort Edward. As new neighbors have come and gone, they always seemed to accept the nice cats and dogs we have for 3 blocks around here. Eventually new neighbors would also get a pet (or 2) and that adds to the fun of watching them make new friends.

    Yes, when I was younger I would occasionally have to run outside and break up a cat fight or a cat and dog encounter, but with love and discipline all the pets here accept humans as their Alpha leaders. I think that, in itself, shows that our neighbors have taken the time to train their pets well. (Yes, cats CAN be trained to act like dogs and respond to whistles, hand signals, and verbal commands. You just need more patience with them.)

    Teach your cat and dog to walk behind you around the block and eventually you’ll have neighbors coming outside to talk with you. These pets are supposed to make you feel calm and good natured about life. You will get back all the effort you put into them.
  5. Cricket
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    Cricket - April 01, 2012 7:29 am
    Wow, takes a "big" man to kill a animal simply for existing. Does it give you a sense of accomplishment, or a high to kill something that annoys you? Are you euthanizing them humanely with a needle? The problem isn't the cats.. it is their irresponsible owners. As my previous posts will attest, I am a firm believer that cats should be kept indoors for their own safety, as well as the damage they cause native song birds. That said, I do not support killing them as Toast boasts.

    Toast@ :NY AGRI & MKTS §§ 331 - 379; NY PENAL LAW § 130.20 If you do kill a cat, I hope you end up paying a nice fine for it.

    @serenity: http://arthritis.webmd.com/tc/lyme-disease-cause
    Quote:Dogs, cats, and horses can become infected with Lyme disease bacteria, but they can't pass the illness to humans. But infected ticks may fall off the animals and then bite and infect humans.

    My dog has Lyme disease, will stay latent even though treated. I was tested and have none.
  6. PfortE
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    PfortE - March 31, 2012 8:20 pm
    Not much of a stray problem near me but there was one cat that came around for a little while. At least it might have been a stray--could have just had a crumby keeper. Either way it was emaciated so I fed it for a while. He would come around at 9 or 10 each evening, eat some cat food and be on his merry way. Disappeared eventually. Nevertheless, I did not at any point feel an obligation to check in with my neighbors to see if they were OK with it. I doubt they would have minded anyway, since I haven't encountered any quite as curmudgeonly as some of the posters...may their hydrangeas be "marked."
  7. toast
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    toast - March 31, 2012 5:22 pm
    The number one problem is the irresponsible owners of these invasive beasts allowing them to roam. Owners, if you consider your pet to be your property, then keep your property where it belongs. And looks like the article proclaims if I start feeding a stray it belongs to me. Well, in that case, I'm going to start feeding all of your roaming cats and then killing them off, since they are now mine!
  8. CSC
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    CSC - March 31, 2012 10:04 am
    I used a product called UScram and it worked great, kept all cats out of my garden and my yard.
  9. wired
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    wired - March 30, 2012 11:04 pm
    My neighbor feeds stay cats now we have 20 to 30 cats running around . called hudson falls they told me good luck. she thinks she's doing hem a favor by feeding them. the smell around my house from the males makes it hard to enjoy the outdoors in warm weather. but if my dog gets loose she complains like the world is ending.
  10. Serenity Now
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    Serenity Now - March 30, 2012 9:25 pm
    Any connection to ticks? Concerns re:lymes disease! Anyone have an answer????
  11. Cricket
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    Cricket - March 30, 2012 5:27 pm
    That kitty cat does *not* look happy! :)
    This is a good program, thank you Dr. Meyer and all the other vets who participate.
  12. waterdrinker
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    waterdrinker - March 30, 2012 5:15 pm
    Chrisgee says "The guy who says cats are spraying on his precious firewood clearly is feeding the cats or they wouldn't be hanging around"

    that is not a true statement, i have feral cats spraying my front door and lawn furniture, my house has never fed cats, neither have my immediate neighbors, this is a huge problem, not only with the spraying but the feces as well..its a human problem and we need laws to make sure people change their actions
  13. chrisgee
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    chrisgee - March 30, 2012 4:40 pm
    i see a lot of issues being blamed on cats but not a lot of proof. the article implies that cats are transmitting rabies but were ANY of the bite wounds recorded from cats? Nope. The guy who says cats are spraying on his precious firewood clearly is feeding the cats or they wouldn't be hanging around. Maybe it's just poorly-secured garbage but cats aren't hanging out there for no reason. I think the suggestion of a water scare-crow is excellent.

    What's most distressing about the article is it brings up a lot of problems they (often incorrectly) associate with cats but offers no solutions. Please learn about trap-neuter-return for ferals and encourage residents to spay their pets and learn the health benefits of fixing your cats and keeping them indoors. Otherwise this article just becomes another blame-game in which feral cats (who can't speak for themselves) become an easy scapegoat.
  14. waterdrinker
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    waterdrinker - March 30, 2012 12:05 pm
    What is a shame is the warren county spca will not come and trap these stray cats so they just multiply and multilpy. working with GF's building and codes department is helpful. city code is no more than 2 domestic animals in a house. if you ahve a neighbor that feeds mulitple strays they can be cited for too many anmials. we need more laws on the books for cats!
  15. strong
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    strong - March 30, 2012 9:42 am
    I dont have stray cats in my neighborhood ? maybe you should try my method !!
  16. politiclyincorrect
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    politiclyincorrect - March 30, 2012 9:12 am
    No stray cats in my yard, the Fishers, Foxes and Coyotes keep the wild cats in check. I do however feel for people in suburban ares, I had a custom paint job on a pickup i owned ruined once by a "poor cute kitty" that went "hood surfing" in our neighborhood in L.G. when i lived there.
  17. Ricky Bones
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    Ricky Bones - March 29, 2012 7:49 pm
    Good case for a state ban :-D
  18. loveglensfalls
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    loveglensfalls - March 29, 2012 1:17 pm
    Stray cats are not the only risks. Cat owners who allow their cat(s) to come onto my property are offensive. Our neighbor's cat climbs onto our vehicles, scratching them with the dirt in the pads of their feet. They also frighten the skunk that lives in the neighborhood and it sprays on a regular basis. We know the cat is only doing what cats do, but they need to be kept at home, inside. I do not want to smell cat "waste" when I am in my yard and I don't want to have to buff the scratches out of my car because you want to be an irresponsible cat owner. We should pass laws that make it illegal for a cat to be outside without a lead, just like dog laws.
  19. migrandl
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    migrandl - March 29, 2012 11:48 am
    ...'stray cats coming on his property and spraying, which unneutered male cats do to mark their territory.'...

    ALL male cats spray to mark their territory, neutered or unneutered. All it takes is one to make a mark and the rest of the males in the area will follow suit - it's a game of one-upmanship.
  20. TIME4ACHANGE
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    TIME4ACHANGE - March 29, 2012 8:19 am
    There has to be something done about the stray cats. My dog when he was a puppy got a disease from stray cats coming into our yard. And a lady down the street was feeding a bunch of them and she didn't care. That's why people need to take responcibilities for their actions and if you are going to feed them, take care of them! Keep them in your house or on your own property. When they trepass on somebodies else's, they might not be so nice as I was. It's to bad they don't or won't make any laws about them but they sure do about dogs! I like cats but if I owned one, I would take care of them and keep them inside and not let them roam around. I respect other people's property when I walk my dog. To bad we have people who have both cats and dogs and just get rid of them when they don't want them. They should be held accountable.
  21. rgoodbred
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    rgoodbred - March 29, 2012 8:02 am
    Cats should be licensed and owners held responsible for damage they cause. Laws have not been passed because of "cat people" who go crazy when it is brought up.
  22. chipmunkjo
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    chipmunkjo - March 29, 2012 7:51 am
    to the man with the firewood. buy a water scarecrow. they are sold online. they are effective, do not harm the animal, and are self activating. also, plastic is a great deterrent to damage, and a shower liner costs about three dollars at walmart or a dollar at dollar store. hope these help. the animals do not know any better. to them, your woodpile is just another bunch of wood in the grass. as for the rabies, yes, you should be careful, but also be reasonable. and understand that sometimes a raccoon that has just eaten a certain kind of fish will froth at the mouth although there is nothing wrong. a cat can froth from eating certain bugs. rabies is dangerous, but shooting anything that acts "weird" is not the answer. sometimes rabies has no symptoms until the last three days the animal is living. there is no way to be sure without killing the animal. i would hate to see people killing anything that did not belong in their yard just to be sure. there is no easy answer, that is true.
  23. Barbie
    Report Abuse
    Barbie - March 29, 2012 7:23 am
    Sad but true...there are no laws at all for cats and most of them are making problems for home owners. I worked at a local animal hospital for 5 years and also served as a animal control officer for a local town. I had lots of calls at both places of employment in regards to stray and feral cats being destructive to property. Your caught between a rock and a hard place as both a home owner and employee. As a home owner there is no place to take these cats even if you do safely trap them. As animal control or any hospital or shelter there are many stipulations that can help them to easily say no to your plea for help. The first question most will ask you is if you have ever fed it at any time. If you say that you have fed it even one time they will tell you it's yours now and then turn you away. For animal control they have now laws or guidelines to follow when it comes to cats. So I often wondered why havnt towns come up with any laws to help enforce these problems. Seems no problem to come up with more laws for us to follow any other time. So cat owners please be more aware of your cats vaccinations and please please SPAY and NEUTER your cats!! Wether your cats go outside or not! People that think they are doing good by feeding stray cats please stop... Cats that live in the wild are eating with out your help already and doing so is only keeping them localized to a residential area where they WILL start doing damage if they aren't already! People of our community that can help change some laws please do so!

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