WILD CAT TALE CAN ONLY END BADLY

Angela Carella:  WILD CAT TALE CAN ONLY END BADLY   Sunday, March 16, 2014

A well-kept house on a street of equally tidy homes in High Ridge, cats come and go.No one knows how many. But neighbors have told Stamford animal control officers and animal rescue volunteers about all the cats roaming their yards, and about the litters of kittens they find under their bushes and sheds.

There are so many cats around that a caring neighbor had a family member build a little shelter for them behind her house. Another neighbor gathered up the kittens he found on his property and took them to a pet store parking lot to see if he could find people to adopt them.

The woman who lets the cats in and out of her house may or may not be violating the law. Unlike dogs, cats do not have to be licensed or leashed. They do, however, have to be vaccinated for rabies.But before you can fine someone for failure to vaccinate a cat, you have to prove that the person is the owner.

Someone who provides food, water and shelter for more than two weeks by law becomes the legal keeper of the animal and they are responsible to make sure the animal is kept current on rabies vaccinations,” said Laurie Hollywood, director of the Stamford Animal Care & Control Shelter.But how do you prove that someone has been feeding and sheltering a certain cat for more than two weeks, particularly if cats are going in and out, and there are lots of them?The woman in High Ridge has cooperated with animal control officers, to an extent. “She told me she has six pregnant cats now,” Hollywood said. “She said she would give me the kittens once they are done nursing, then give me the mothers so they can be spayed. And she agreed to let me take a male cat that has not been neutered.”

Cora Martino has heard that before from the High Ridge woman. Martino is founder of Pitter Patter Feline Rescue, a tiny nonprofit that traps feral cats in Stamford, spays or neuters them and returns them to where they were living.Martino works with another Stamford woman, Amy Hoyt. Using a small amount of donations and state spay-neuter vouchers, lots of money out of their own pockets, and with help from Stamford veterinarians who provide medical care at low cost or for free, the women are trying to curb Stamford’s ever-increasing population of feral cats.Martino and Hoyt also rescue kittens they find. They nurse them to health, vaccinate them, spay or neuter them and find them homes.Martino and Hoyt learned about the woman in High Ridge two years ago from a Stamford veterinarian. The woman told the veterinarian that she let a feral cat into her house and it had kittens under her bed and she didn’t know what to do. The veterinarian called Pitter Patter Feline Rescue.

“The woman didn’t want us to take the kittens or the mother,” Hoyt said. “Eventually she let us take three of the kittens when they were old enough to be spayed. But then she called and asked for one back.”Two years ago the woman let Hoyt and Martino trap eight cats in her house and yard, which they spayed or neutered and returned to her.”But then she stopped letting us in,” Hoyt said. “We would call and she would say, `You can’t come today. I have a headache.’ “In many cases the homes of people who keep lots of cats are unkempt. Not in this case, Hoyt said.”Her house was quite immaculate,” Hoyt said. “She has a garage full of cat food and leaves the door open for them.”Hoyt said when they were trapping cats in the woman’s yard they also got a raccoon, which likely was taking its share of cat food from the garage.

That’s a problem, Hollywood said.”It’s the main reason we are concerned about people interacting with animals that have no vaccine history,” Hollywood said. “Raccoons learn quickly where cats are being fed. They share the food, the water. They may fight. That’s how rabies and other diseases are spread.”

The High Ridge woman earlier this month showed up at the Stamford Veterinary Center on Hope Street with four kittens. Dr. John Robb said the woman told him the mother had rejected the kittens, which feral cats do. One was already dead and the others died later, Robb said. “She told me there were several other pregnant cats. She was very nice — well-spoken and intelligent,” Robb said. “I told her, `You can get in trouble here. The authorities have a duty to protect the animals, and what you are doing is not in line with protecting animals.’ I told her if she could get help bringing the cats in, we could knock down the bill for spaying and neutering.“She said, `It’s a very nice offer but I am going to take a raincheck on it.’”Here’s the thing, Martino said. The house in High Ridge is not the only one.“There’s one in Springdale where someone is feeding cats and refuses to let anyone on the property to trap. There are several pregnant cats,” Martino said. Many of the feral cats living in colonies all over Stamford are sick or injured. They are endlessly reproducing. Martino and Hoyt cannot keep up. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and it’s only gotten worse,” Martino said. “Last year we spayed or neutered 214 cats. I raised 119 kittens and adopted them out. And we barely made a dent.” 

The same is true for Janine Paton, who works with another Stamford nonprofit, Friends of Felines. The group has about 30 volunteers, with two who do some trapping. But the group has another mission.”We are focusing on tame cats that have been abandoned outside,” Paton said. “There are so many on Henry Street that a nice family made a little shelter for them and put straw in it. They called me because a cat was in there and would not come out. She was freezing and starving to death.”It was a house cat, petrified and unequipped to survive on the street. Paton now is caring for the cat, which lost pieces of her ears to frost bite.”We had another situation where a man in the Cove bought a cat from a pet store, didn’t have her spayed and let her outside,” which is how the feral population got started, Paton said. “The cat had several litters and the man got sick of it. So he brought her to North Stamford and let her go. She made her way home to the Cove and had another litter.”It is, of course, a people problem.

“This type of situation always ends badly,” Robb said of the house in High Ridge. “It always gets out of control. More and more people will end up getting involved in it. It seems weird, in this day and age, when something is so obviously amiss, that no one can do anything.”

angela.carella@scni.com; 203-964-2296.