Feral cats seek shelter
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – If you’ve ever returned home to find a strange cat wandering through your yard or neighborhood, you might have come across a feral cat.
“These are domestic animals who ended up in the wild because their owners did not do the right thing,” Abigail Jennings said.
In 1998 Jennings founded Lake Norman Lucky Cat, a nonprofit organization that provides humane treatment to cats who live on the streets, in the woods or anywhere other than a loving home.
She developed the organization after buying a piece of undeveloped property on Catawba Avenue in Cornelius, which she later found was home to almost 20 cats. She wanted a humane way to deal with her problem.
Now, 14 years later, she and a group of volunteers have helped more than 2,000 feral cats.
“Feral cats fall through the cracks because they can’t be adopted,” said Robin Byrd, vice president of Lucky Cat. “They become feral within a period of three years, becoming totally averse to human contact.”
Once a cat is feral, there’s no way to return it to a home. But it can be cared for.
While some like having community cats for rodent control, others consider them a nuisance.
Byrd said feral cats pose no threat because they avoid human contact.
Jennings said while Mother Nature provides for animals like squirrels, feral cats are domestic animals that have been forced to survive on their own.
Providing an alternative
The option Lucky Cat provides is Trap-Neuter-Return.
This European technique, now implemented around the world, consists of trapping wild cats, taking them to a veterinarian for disease testing and vaccinations, spaying or neutering the animals, then returning them to where they were found.
The program offered by Lucky Cat is not free, but it is a reduced cost; Jennings said $80 will get you $400 worth of services.
To participate in the program, one must also agree to care for the cat for the remainder of its life.
The cats are trapped in a special cage, provided by Lucky Cat, that allows a vet to easily administer sedation. Jennings sets up appointments on the first Monday of each month with local vets who support the cause.
The veterinarians also clip the tip of each cat’s ear, permanently marking the cat as sterilized.
Animal control officers recognize this as a signal that the cat will not be reproducing, and they’ll often allow the cat to roam freely rather than taking it to shelters.
When Trey Nodine, animal control officer for the Cornelius Police Department, gets a nuisance call and finds an ear-tipped cat, he’ll contact Byrd or Jennings.
“Lucky Cat will come on out and speak with the owner of the property, let them know what they do, tell them that the animals are spayed or neutered, and that they’re really not promoting much of a problem other than living in the area,” Nodine said.
If the property owner decides not to trap, spay and neuter the cat, they can call Mecklenburg County Animal Control who will pick up the animal. Since feral cats aren't adoptable, though, they are euthanized.
In Mecklenburg County, more than 80 percent of cats that end up in a shelter are put down.
Byrd said that’s why controlling the feral cat population is so important.
Feral cats are very low maintenance, she said, and while you won’t likely touch the cat, it will look forward to feeding time each day.
“The feral cats and caretakers do bond over time,” Byrd said. “It’s heartwarming to see those cats waiting for you when it’s feeding time. You can see that they appreciate you.”
The whole situation may seem a bit sad, especially for the cats, but Byrd and Jennings agree that these are “happy cats,” embodying the spirit of adventure and independence.
Want to help?
Lake Norman Lucky Cat serves Mecklenburg, Iredell, Catawba and Lincoln counties. The group is always looking for volunteers and donations. Donations of old towels or blankets as well as cat food and carriers can be taken to local Lake Norman Realty
To learn more, visit www.luckycats.org or call 704-877-7779.