Feral and stray cats have been an issue in Luzerne County for years, and this year has been no exception.
According to information provided by Peggy Nork, Development Director for the SPCA of Luzerne County, approximately 1,067 cats have been turned into the SPCA so far this year, with 170 coming from Greater Pittston municipalities.
Stray vs. feral
There is a difference between feral and stray cats. Stray cats were once raised by humans in a household and can be social, whereas feral cats were born in the wild and had no human contact in their lives.
“The dangers of feral cats are primarily rabies and disease,” said Nork. “There are a lot of known diseases that can be spread from cats to cats and animals to animals. The problem with rabies is when a cat potentially has them its a threat to kids in the community. Cats can go up to them and bite them and infect the child. Children can think of cats as a pet and want to pet them.”
Nork said the main issue with feral cats is their ability to rapidly reproduce, which can turn a few cats in a neighborhood to dozens very quickly.
“Two adult cats can reproduce upwards to 10,800 animals in a five-year period,” she said. “The problem isn’t just today and what people are seeing, it’s what will happen in six months. A kitten can get pregnant at four months old, so you can imagine how quickly the numbers increase.”
Despite having had 47 cats from the borough turned into the SPCA, Exeter Borough Zoning Officer Domenick Pepe said he has never received a complaint about feral cats in his eight years on the job.
He said he doesn’t believe the cats are the issue at large.
“In my opinion I don’t think the cats are the problem, I think it’s the people who are feeding them,” he said. “They feed one cat and then more cats come along.”
Nork said it is common for people to feed feral cats, but it is also their responsibility to care for and maintain them by having them spayed or neutered.
Harry Smith, the Pittston City Code Enforcement Officer, said he believes those feeding cats are not doing them, or their neighbors, any favors.
“Residents think they’re being helpful but it hurts the cats more because they can’t fend for themselves,” he said. “In the winter they starve and then they start destroying people’s property looking for food, and using their property as a bathroom.”
Smith said it is difficult to enforce laws against feeding cats because it often happens on private property, but the city will issue citations for those maintaining a colony, stating residents can have no more than three pets.
Smith said the issue isn’t as prevalent as it once was, but it’s still a concern. He said he receives one call every two weeks at the most.
“It’s tapered off, but it’s still an issue we get called about somewhat frequently,” he said.
Helping the cats
According to Nork, for a $75 deposit, those maintaining a cat colony can receive a trap from the SPCA to bring the cat in to be spayed or neutered and returned to the wild.
She also said cats can get their ears tipped in case they are returned to the SPCA, so voluinteers know the cat is healthy and can be returned to its colony.
The SPCA of Luzerne County will take in stray cats and hold them until they are given a home, but feral cats sometimes aren’t as lucky.
“If they’re unsocial and can’t be handled, unfortunately we have to euthanize the cat,” said Nork. “There is no way to rehabilitate them to be social; they’re no different than a raccoon or a fox. If its ear is tipped we will try to find the colony it came from and see if we can get it returned to the person responsible for the cat colony.”
Nork knows people will continue to feed feral and stray cats, but she asks that they do it responsibly.
“It can be dangerous feeding these cats,” she said. “The bottom line is that if you can’t be 100 percent responsible for them, trap them and bring them into a local animal shelter. We do our best and try to find homes for as many animal that come through our doors.”