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Feral Cats

Carteret County is finding a way to control a growing feral cat problem. Farther South in Holden Beach an organization is attempting to populate the island with feral cats.

On October 1 Carteret County Animal Services received a grant that allows pet owners and animal caretakers to get a feline spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Animal Services has chosen to focus the program on in home cats, outside cats, and feral cats in the town of Newport, where cat over population has become a problematic issue. Joanne Shirtzer, President of Encore Pets, a nonprofit organization serving Carteret County, says pet owners along the coast lack the money to properly take care of their animals placing an extra burden on pet shelters.

"For instance in 2011 the state of NC euthanized 52 percent of the dogs and 79 percent of the cats taken into public animal shelters, so it's a widespread problem across North Carolina and many pet owners and caretakers in Coastal North Carolina are financially unable to provide the spay and neuter services necessary for the animals they care for."

Last year there were approximately 2300 cats left at the Carteret County animal shelter. Animal Control Officer, Tommy Bell, is helping implement the free spay and neuter service, paid for by PetSmart charities.

"It's a day by day process, we have probably right now 300 or more applications that are in, and we have already scheduled those animals and we're booked up until November because the veterinarians, we're working with them, and their doing their regular clientele, and plus their adding our program into our clientele."

Bell says Animal Control plans to apply for more grants because the impacts of the project on the local cat population.

"It's going to slow down our population of feral cats, its going to slow down their travels in the neighborhood, from house to house. A spay and neutered animal will stay where their fed, they won't go out and search for food."

In their travels feral cats can spread disease to both wild cats and domesticated cats. An Upper respiratory infection is one of the most commonly spread diseases. Although it's rarely deadly, symptoms can last for almost three weeks. Rabies is a deadly virus in nearly all cases, and although cats do not get the disease often, domestic animals are more likely to transmit the disease to humans. Although risk of disease may cause you to wonder why feral cats are left to roam the streets, Bell points out a benefit.

"They keep the rodent population down around your home, mice, snakes, bugs. Rodents and insects carry disease that could involve with humans.

This is the exact reaction an organization in Brunswick County is seeking to repopulate the town of Holden Beach with feral cats. Founder and President of the organization leading the effort, Sheri Mclain, says the town would benefit by reintroducing wild felines into the environment.

"They didn't have any colonies there at all. They just thought it would help.

Rescue Animals Community Effort, or R.A.C.E, is taking cats from Brunswick Counties Animal Protective Services, spaying or neutering them, providing the proper vaccinations, and then releasing them. They've also recruited volunteers to monitor feral cat colonies. As well as controlling rodent population Mclain says the feral cats protect in-home and free roaming felines.

"Feral colonies tend to keep other cats pushed out of the area so you wouldn't be seeing as many cats coming into the area that weren't fixed."

Mclain is excited about the program, and expects to be releasing two to three cats a week on Holden Beach, depending on the availability of volunteers.

"It's going to take probably six months to a year to actually colonize the island, it's a slow process, the cats have to become acclimated to the area, and get used to it, but other than that the program is running smoothly."

Mclain stresses the importance of controlling the feral cat population. Feral cats gone unchecked will eventually end up in the animal shelters, and most often be euthanized. Female cats may become fertile as early as four months old, and together with their offspring produce over 10000 cats in just five years.

Mclain says the program is more of an experiment at this point, and is hoping to get at least 20 to 30 feral cats on Holden Beach in the next six months. If you would like to volunteer to watch over a feral cat colony email The Rescue Animals Community Effort at raceshelter@yahoo.com.

If you live in Newport and would like to Spay or neuter your cat and get a distemper and rabies vaccination for it, call the Carteret County Health Department at 252 222 7748. If you don't have transportation the Animal Services has volunteers that will come get your animal, bring it to one of the five veterinarians signed up for the service, and then return it to you. Bell says their goal is to spay and neuter nine hundred cats in the two-year grant period.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.