Breezy, our plump gray kitty that we call our "chatterbox," found her way into our home after her failed attempt at being a barn cat. Willow, our beautiful flame point Siamese, could fit into the palm of my hand when she was brought to me by the Lakeshore Humane Society. I couldn't resist her feisty attitude and she is now the queen of our household. Mia, our sassy tortishelle, was just a kitten when she was found hit by a car on the side of the road - her owner was never found and we became her family. Popcorn, our true hunter tiger cat, can climb the highest tree and jump from the porch roof with her healed broken leg she had when she was dropped off in our driveway as a tiny kitten. And finally, last but not least, our Chilidog, a dark red golden retriever and my true shadow - she was left in our garage, already spayed with missing tags. She came with many anxiety issues but has truly become my best friend and my kids' playmate. These are all the stray pets that have come into our home over the years. They are all now well loved and my family would not be complete without any of them!
The stray pet population is on the rise and the estimated number of feral cats in the United States has risen to the tens of millions. Chautauqua County has become overrun with many feral cat colonies and many dogs in our area are left to roam free. Feral cats are at much higher risk of death due to disease, injury or starvation. These cats are very prone to contracting one of the two deadly viruses' feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus. They also are prone to developing severe respiratory infections and parasitic infections from external and internal parasites. With our harsh winters, many stray cats suffer through the winter by starving or freezing to death. The feral cat population can multiply quickly. A female cat will come into heat once monthly from the spring months until late fall and she can birth a litter with an average of 3-5 kittens. These colonies continue to increase in size for many reasons which include, people continually adding cats to the population, good Samaritans feeding these cats and the cats' high reproductive rate.
Where does the problem arise from? It arises because of our own actions! It is not hard to bring a cute little kitten into one's home. The kitten is fed and loved, but many owners do not take these kittens to the veterinarian. These kittens never receive any vaccinations, dewormings, and are not spayed or neutered. The kitten then starts to become a cat by going through adolescence. The cat is now obnoxious, "marking" its territory by urinating on things, howling when they go through a heat cycle, and attempting to wander away from their home to find a mate. The owners let the cat go or they drop it off somewhere away from their own home. This is just the beginning of one of these feral cat colonies.
Dr. Rebekah Frost
Many attempts have been made and are being made to control these populations. Our area is blessed to have organizations such as the Lakeshore Humane Society, the Westfield Stray Cat Rescue, the Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue, and the Chautauqua County Humane Society. These organizations take in stray pets, give them the vaccinations, dewormings and surgical alteration that is needed and the pets are then adopted to loving homes at a small fee. Unfortunately, these organizations can only take in so many pets and they either have a large waiting list or are very limited by space, foster home availability, and finances.
The ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has teamed up with local organizations in Buffalo and other large cities to institute a trap-neuter-release program as an attempt to control the feral cat colonies. This program entails trapping stray cats, vaccinating, deworming, spaying and neutering the cats, then returning them to where they were trapped. This program helps decrease the risk of spreading deadly diseases and parasites in the population, but unfortunately no program can keep up with the rate at which these cats can reproductively multiply.
The only way to truly control the stray pet population is to get the entire community involved and educated. Enforce a "leash law" for not only dogs but cats as well. Set up programs and classes that help educate people on how to properly care for a pet. Start a trap, neuter and return program but have it be highly regulated and targeted for certain populations. Using this program for a few random cats here and there will do no good. It must include the entire population in a certain colony to make a difference. Owners should make sure their pets are spayed/neutered and receive all their vaccinations. Dogs and cats should not be let loose to roam. They are at a much higher risk of contracting deadly diseases, getting hit by a car, getting in fights with other animals and becoming lost. Finally, the community should support local shelters by donating, volunteering, fostering pets and finally, adopting some of these pets. We can all do our part to help!
If a stray pet is found, take the following precautions:
1. Use caution - Many of these pets are sick, hurt or not socialized. They may do anything to defend themselves and this can become risky to people if their vaccine status is unknown. Rabies virus is very prevalent in the wildlife population and one must always take precautions not to come in contact with any animal with no known vaccine history.
2. Call for back-up - Call your local dog control officer or shelter if a stray pet is found. Dog control officers have the right equipment to be able to handle some of these pets
3. Be prepared - Use gloves, carriers, and towels to catch and restrain a cat. Use gloves and a strong leash to restrain a dog
4. Look for any ID on the pet and look for an owner - ID might include a microchip, a tattoo in an ear or in the groin, a collar with a license tag, rabies tag, or ID tag. Call local veterinary offices or shelters to see if any owner has been looking for the pet.
5. Be prepared to take financial responsibility for the pet - The pet may need care provided by a veterinarian especially if they are sick or injured and your veterinarian can also check for a microchip in these pets.
6. Finally, call your local shelters to see if they can take the pet if the pet appears healthy.
Below, all of the area's phone numbers for dog control officers and the local shelters are provided. If none of these organizations can take in the stray pet, check with your veterinarian to see if any discounts can be given for vaccinating and spaying/neutering a stray pet. We at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic would like to do our part to help by offering a free first health wellness visit for any pet adopted from a shelter or rescue. We also have a fund in honor of our late office cat Bigfoot. This fund was set up to provide financial help for any stray and injured pet that needs care and can possibly be adopted once care is given and they have recovered.
Important numbers and information:
Dog Control Officers:
Town of Dunkirk - Rick Salisbury, 785-0178
City of Dunkirk - Steve Purol, 785-5226
Village of Fredonia -Doug Bunge, 680-2957
Town of Pomfret - Dan Smith, 679-5646
Village of Cassadaga - Dennis Pastor, 595-3192, Ext .7
Town of Hanover - Wally Baker, 934-4539 or 679-8303
Village of Silver Creek - Tim Christian, 934-2112
Village of Westfield - 269-8888
Animal Shelters and Rescues:
Chautauqua County Humane Society - 665-2209
Lakeshore Humane Society - 672-1991
Northern Chautauqua Canine Rescue - 326-7297
Westfield Stray Cat Rescue - 581-0463
Dr. Rebekah R. Frost is a veterinarian at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic and can be contacted at 366-7440. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org