Groups struggle to humanely deal with America's feral cats -

Feral cat colonies are spreading

An estimated 100 million feral cats and dogs are running rampant in cities across the country. The majority of these animals are feral cats.

Most of these felines are basically house cats that were either lost or abandoned in the past, and have reverted back to a "wild" state.

Some people think feral cats should be killed, but others passionately disagree, saying feral cats should be allowed to live out their lives. 

The reality is feral cats can pose human health risks and if you don't use caution, you could get real sick.

Feral cats can live practically anywhere--in your neighborhood, outside restaurants, even in parking lot storm drains.

America Now found a feral cat colony just a short distance from the entrance of a hotel located next to a busy interstate in North Carolina. 

Some epidemiologists say feral cats are disease reservoirs because they can transmit Cat-scratch, Salmonellosis, Parasitic Infections, Fungal infections and Rabies, just to name a few.

You can contract these diseases from bites, scratches, and, sometimes, feces deposited in beach sand, children's sandboxes, vegetable gardens and flower beds.

Underfunded and understaffed animal control officers across the country are on the front line in the battle to reduce the feral cat overpopulation.

At times, animal control officers in Charlotte, North Carolina, can round up as many as 50 feral cats and kittens in a day's time.

Melissa Knicely is the spokesperson for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department's Animal Care and Control.

"When you're at the beach and digging a hole and it starts filling with water, you dig a little deeper and it keeps filling with more water," and Knicely adds, "Often, that's what it can feel like with the cats because cats can reproduce so quickly."

Virtually all the cats in the cages at the CMPD Animal Care and Control will be put down through lethal injection because it isn't safe to adopt them out to the public.

"Unfortunately, it has to be euthanized," Knicely comments as a feral cat is carefully placed by a worker onto a stainless steel examination table and comforted.

Critics say trap-and-kill methods that have been around for decades runs up a hefty bill for taxpayers and have done very little to solve our nation's out-of-control feral cat crisis.  

Advocates like Abigail Jennings, however, beg to differ and that's why for years she's devoted her time and resources into the Lake Norman Lucky Cats Program. She says feral cats are harmless and should be allowed to live.

"This is not just someone else's problem; this is everybody's problem," Jennings says.

She says feral cats should be vaccinated and spayed so they can't reproduce and add to the problem.

The numbers are staggering.

A female cat can give birth to one to eight kittens per litter, and two to three liters per year. That's 24 cats in a year.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, a pair of breeding cats and their kittens can produce over 400,000 cats in seven years.

Thousands of feral cat groups in the United States, like the Lake Norman Lucky Cats Program, promote the practice of Trap-Neuter-Release. Feral cats are trapped, taken to spay and neuter clinics, and released back into the neighborhood.

On the day we shot this story, volunteers trapped a cat nicknamed "Momma Kitty" because she's given birth to so many kittens in her life.

Through the Lake Norman Lucky Cats Program, Momma Kitty was tranquilized and spayed at a veterinarian's clinic called the Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership or SNIP.

"By spaying this one feral cat, we have literally reduced the potential population of feral cats or stray cats by 250,000 animals, just this one cat," said Veterinarian Beth Broome who owns the SNIP clinic.

Before Momma Kitty is released, one of her ears is tipped so feral cat volunteers or animal control officers will know the cat has been vaccinated and spayed. This also increases the cat's chances of not being euthanized should she be caught by animal control officers in the future. They'll know, she's no longer contributing to the problem.

"Let's just take care of the problem which is the spay and neutering, and let them live where they live—that's really the solution," Jennings says.

Some opponents argue that in addition to the potential health dangers to humans, allowing feral cats to live where they wish can disrupt the ecosystem by hurting native species like birds or other small animals. 

For the millions of feral cats across the country that aren't vaccinated and spayed, animal control officers are the ones left with the dirty work of trapping, caring for, and eventually, euthanizing these animals. 

"We don't manufacture the animals inside the shelter; they're out in the community," and Knicely adds, "We're just trying to take care of the community problem and you can't do it alone."

The life expectancy of a feral cat is three to five years more if they are spayed and neutered because they do not have the stress of mating, carrying a pregnancy, delivering and then having to care for kittens. 
The procedure basically reduces the cat's stress level over the course of their entire life.

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