By Stefanie Jackson – Cape Charles residents have let the cat out of the bag on their feelings about the proliferation of feral felines in town and the resulting impact on quality of life.
Mayor Smitty Dize welcomed citizens to share their comments publicly during the Feb. 21 town council meeting.
Opinions appeared to be divided between members and supporters of the Eastern Shore Spay Organization (ES Spay), which practices the trap, neuter, and release method of feral cat population control, and citizens who disapprove of both sheltering the cats in town and the alternative – allowing the cats to be captured and possibly euthanized by animal control.
ES Spay’s mission is “to provide low-cost spay/neuter services for the Eastern Shore and to help reduce the local cat population,” said Sandy Mayer, the nonprofit’s secretary and treasurer.
Trap, neuter, and release is the only natural and effective way to control cat populations, Mayer said. While still under anesthesia, each cat is “eartipped” – the tip of one ear is clipped as an easy way to visually identify cats that have been neutered. Each cat also receives a rabies vaccination.
Eventually, feral cat populations are eliminated because they can’t reproduce, Mayer said.
Her husband, Hank Mayer, also spoke. Since the organization was formed in 2013, it has raised $32,000, and through an agreement with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), 1,100 cats have been spayed or neutered, including 520 “community cats” and 580 pet cats whose owners could not afford the surgery, he said.
Joy Pelletier said that without intervention, each cat would reproduce about three times per year, with an average of six kittens per litter.
She monitors cat shelters intended to keep the animals out of private property and to help them stay healthy, Pelletier said. A shelter is never built without permission, she added.
PetSmart in Chesapeake, Va., helps find adoptive families for the socialized cats, Pelletier said.
But JoAnn Bawiec, a self-proclaimed animal lover, observed that Cape Charles is experiencing a housing boom and whenever new houses are built, cats and shelters are displaced from the formerly vacant lots. “Personally, I don’t think they belong in a historic, residential area,” she added.
She suggested the council form a committee to examine possible long-term solutions and relayed a rumor that a landowner once considered donating a parcel outside the town limits to relocate the cats.
According to the town ordinance, she pointed out, animals may not “roam free,” but she is not in favor of capturing and euthanizing the cats.
“If you were on Facebook today, you would have thought there was going to be a roundup at midnight and a mass execution. That’s not what happened,” she said.
Ryan Pattan wrote that a nearby shelter attracted so many cats to his house that all three of his sons, ages 3 to 6, who suffer from cat allergies, have been limited in how much time they can spend at home.
Ashley Sabo commented that feral cats can also spread diseases like toxoplasmosis and cat scratch fever.
Jeanna Bouzek, a part-time resident, wrote to express support for neutering and vaccinating the cats, but bemoaned the cats using her backyard as “their personal litter box” and refused to expose her dogs to the cat feces, which can cause illness when ingested.
She also couldn’t visit her home for weeks due to “toxic chemicals” used to exterminate an infestation of fleas she attributed to the cats.
“It’s embarrassing to sit on my front porch with friends and have them comment on the cat urine smell. I pay my taxes, spend tens of thousands of dollars improving the looks of my home, mow my lawn, follow all rules and regulations … what recourse do I have?” she asked.