The town of Newfane – more specifically the lakeshore hamlet of Olcott - has a feral cat problem. The community is inundated with dozens of free-roaming, essentially-wild felines which have created health and safety issues galore as well as major inconveniences to property owners, businesses and tourists. Town officials considered trapping and eradicating the cats but animal advocates, citing inhumane practices, recently raised a stink and would rather that the town allows volunteers to trap and transplant or trap and spay/neuter and release.
The approaches proposed by the cat lovers beg two questions: What is so humane about reintroducing feral cats to the environment and where – and for what animals – does “animal advocacy” begin and end? I ask those questions because I wonder why, if they are so concerned about animal welfare, the advocates seem not to care about the wildlife of the region, which is arguably far more important than this invasive specie.
Yes, the feral cat is an invasive specie. They are a scourge on the natural world that demolishes the integrity of our environment, no different than two other threats bearing down on Newfane that were also introduced to the area by Man – the emerald ash borer (the beetle set to destroy every ash tree in the area) and the Asian carp (the monstrous fish that will upset the Great Lakes). Those two creatures will have measurable and considerable impact on our economy so they are perceived as major dangers by the populace at large; feral cats, on the other hand, are not popularly reviled, because their economic impact is nil (although it can be argued their presence has prevented many tourists from returning to Olcott).
Alas, no dollar value can be placed on the dangers cats pose to local wildlife. According to a 2010 study by the University of Nebraska Extension, there are 60 million stray and feral cats in the United States and another 88 million domestic cats (which may spend time outside), all of which kill 1 billion of our feathered friends every year. Low-nesting and ground-nesting birds are most likely to fall victim to the unnatural predator and that carries special meaning in Newfane where there are miles of shoreline on Lake Ontario, 18-Mile Creek and Keg Creek that rare and endangered sandpipers, plovers and other shorebirds call home. More familiar woodland and lawn birds like catbirds, thrushes, cardinals and ovenbirds are also easy prey for the cats.
The dangers of feral cats don’t end there. They are sponges for and transmitters of disease. Over the years I’ve seen the bodies - or witnessed the death – of diseased feral cats that come from local colonies of barn cats. It can be a little disturbing. One feral cat I observed in its death throes would alternate between long periods of unconsciousness and sickening seizures where its whole body would flop before finally succumbing to whatever ailment it had. Now, imagine your domestic cat coming in contact with one of those animals and your beloved family friend taking ill and suffering before your very eyes.
Even more horrifying than that, imagine you or a family member being stricken with rabies acquired from a feral cat. If left unattended, a painful, ugly death is guaranteed. It can happen and nearly did in Newfane on quite a few occasions in recent years when unsuspecting souls thought they were handling tame, clean cats. In 2006 a calico cat frequented Burt Dam and many fishermen befriended the cat. That spring the cat contracted rabies. Because of that, a health alert went out to the public and at least 3 men received rabies shots because of their association with the cat. Then, in 2010, a Himalayan/Siamese cat was dropped off on Gow Road. That young cat, and no doubt the mother and litter it came from, had rabies, creating a huge scare that was reported by local print and broadcast news outlets.
It’s patently obvious that feral cats aren’t cute and cuddly like their housebound brothers and sisters. They are a danger to Man, pet and nature alike. In a case like this, emotion needs to be cast aside and replaced with logic. “Fixing” the cats won’t fix the problem. The town of Newfane has an obligation to protect its citizens and the environment and to best do so it needs to take the unpopular path and completely eradicate the feral cat population that has overtaken Olcott.
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 07 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers