Group works to reduce feral cat numbers

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stacy Bailey and Shelley Childs prepare for a day of trapping feral cats at Bullock Mobile Home Park. More volunteers are needed to help reduce the number of feral cats in the wild, Childs says.

At Bullock Mobile Home Park off Pughsville Road in Suffolk Tuesday, Suffolk Humane Society volunteer Shelley Childs was getting set for a day’s trapping.

Unloading about a dozen elongated rectangular wire cages from her car, the society’s feral cat manager was hoping that by sundown her efforts would have made some dent — however small — on Suffolk’s population of feral cats.

Childs says she trapped her first feral cat when she was 8. The feline was under her neighbor’s shed. “I reached in and got shredded,” she said.

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“He was a long-hair orange tabby, and he was beautiful. It took me about a month to tame him.”

Childs, one of a handful of volunteer feral cat trappers in Suffolk, says she has caught “30-something” feral cats so far this year.

In 2011, she and Lisa Branton, whom Childs describes as her Suffolk trapping counterpart, trapped more than 200, according to Childs.

“I work (trapping) two or three days in a row, depending on the week and my family schedule,” Childs said. “There’s never enough time; there’re never enough hours.”

Childs says the number of feral cats in Suffolk city limits is inestimable but growing. Their impact on the environment is clearer.

Without a human hand to feed them, they survive on birds, rodents and amphibians, many of them native species.

“If they’re not fed cat food by a human caregiver, they’re going to impact on the environment,” Childs said.

Meanwhile, new herself to Suffolk’s fledgling army against feral cats, Stacy Bailey is organizing fellow Bullock residents to join the campaign.

“I would guess there’s 40 to 50 feral cats just in one small section (of the mobile home park),” she said. “When I go to work, I see them either crossing, or hit, on Pughsville Road.”

Once trapped, cats are spayed or neutered, tested for feline AIDS and leukemia, vaccinated against rabies and have an ear clipped, which identifies them as having undergone the process.

A People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals so-called SNIP van will perform the procedures in Suffolk for the first time on April 2, at Harmony House in Driver, 3126 Kings Highway.

The procedures will be free after purchasing the $15 rabies shot, and Suffolk Humane Society is calling for more volunteer trappers to furnish the van with feral cats.

Suffolk Humane Society Director of Community Outreach Kay Hurley said 11 million cats could spawn from one unfixed feline after nine years.

“By doing what we call trap-neuter-release, that’s a more humane (alternative to euthanasia) … and eventually we hope to be able to close in on the colony,” she said.

The society needs donations — either monetary or of traps — as well as new homes for the cats, Childs said.

Childs said feral cats live only three to five years in the wild, where they are up against disease, cat fights, dogs, foxes, motor vehicles and starvation.

For information on volunteering or to book an appointment with the SNIP van, call 538-3030.