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Humane Society Tries to Control Claremont Feral Population

Monday, December 08, 2014
Claremont — Two summers ago, Sullivan County Humane Society President Cheryl Bromley had an experience that she said highlights how easy, and how difficult, it is to control the feral cat population.

Two families on either end of a long road near Unity had about 25 stray cats each in their care. Both contacted the Humane Society because the number of cats was increasing.

Bromley said her group made the same offer to both families: the Humane Society would come to the property, trap the animals, have them spayed or neutered, give them rabies shots and exams, and return them to the property.

“One family said, ‘Great. Let’s do it,’ ” Bromley recalled.

She went out each month that summer and again the following summer when the Humane Society held a spayed and neuter clinic and trapped the cats.

“We fixed all 25 of them and now they are down to seven through natural attrition,” Bromley said recently during an interview at the Humane Society’s cat shelter on Tremont Street.

The other family declined the offer, Bromley said. They wanted the cats removed. But the Humane Society rarely is able to adopt out feral cats and does not trap and euthanize the animals.

Members of that family declined additional offers by the Humane Society to trap the animals, and Bromley said they called recently to say they are up to about 40 cats.

The situation could be easily addressed with a rewrite of a Claremont ordinance pertaining to free-roaming cats, Bromley said.

At a recent City Council meeting, Bromley requested that as the council updates it ordinances, it strengthens the one governing cats. If the city required free-roaming cats to be spayed or neutered, the Humane Society would be allowed to trap the animals on private property and sharply reduce the population.

“It would give us more leverage with people who didn’t want us to trap because we can’t go on private property,” Bromley said. “Right now I don’t have a lot of leverage and we don’t expect the police to do this. If the law said, ‘your cat has to be fixed’ that would be helpful.”

Though many pet owners understand that getting their animal “fixed” is both responsible and humane, many others do not and under current city ordinances, there is little the Humane Society can do to address the problem, Bromley said.

“We get complaints from the public about free-roaming cats, mostly feral cats, that are coming on people’s property, walking on their cars or digging in their bushes,” she said.

City ordinances currently only address the requirement for cat owners to have their pets vaccinated against rabies.

Requiring cats to be licensed would be costly, difficult to regulate and probably make the problem worse, Bromley said. Proposals in other communities to require licenses for cats have not met with much success, Susan Fleming, a Humane Society volunteer, said.

“It has been turned down in most every community it has been proposed,” Fleming said. “The logistics is one thing but enforcing it is another thing.”

Fleming said if a cat does not have a required license it would be costly to assign someone to capture it and impound it for seven days as well as determine if it has an owner.

“Who will them pick up and where will they keep them?” Fleming said. “All this expense is picked up by the town.”

From Bromley’s perspective, licensing, which is permissible under New Hampshire state law, would add to the problem posed by feral cats.

“It is just another thing to be regulated,” Bromley said.

Those who are taking care of “wild cats” can’t be expected to take on that expense and those who can’t afford it, may end up leaving the cat somewhere, she said.

“It could lead to greater abandonment.”

Bromley, who lived in Hawaii for a time, said that state requires free-roaming cats to be “fixed.” Those who refuse to allow a cat to be taken from their property can be fined, and Bromley said she had such an experience.

“I told the woman, I can take your cat, have it spayed and bring it back or fine you and she told me to take it,” Bromley recalled.

Bromley said the numbers speak for themselves when describing the positive impact of the Humane Society’s low-cost spay and neuter program. In 2012, the Society held six clinics and in 2013 they held nine. This year they have held one every month and only charge between $40 and $50, which also includes a rabies shot. The same procedures at a veterinarian clinic or hospital are at least $100.

In a little more than two years, the Sullivan County Humane Society has spayed or neutered more than 1,400 cats, both feral and those with owners.

In another example, Bromley said a woman in the city has about 40 feral cats but will not work with the Humane Society to let them be trapped. They set traps on the neighbors’ property and have gotten some but most of the cats stay where their main source of food is, which is on the woman’s property.

“These are basically wild animals and they are multiplying and the way we can deal with it is to get them fixed. Through natural attrition their colonies will eventually shrink,” Bromley said.

If the city demonstrated it supported the Humane Society’s goal through a stricter ordinance, Bromley said that would help her group obtain grant money and broaden their work of trapping cats and having them spayed or neutered.

“We are willing to do this on our time and with our money,” Bromley, whose organization relies on donations.

City Councilor Charlene Lovett expects the council will follow up with the Humane Society’s request as it updates its ordinances. She wants to be sure the problem is accurately identified and then thoroughly discussed before any changes are made to city ordinances.

“I want to bring all the stakeholders into the discussion, including the animal control officer,” she said.

Since 2012, Bromley said they have seen positive signs from their work with the local animal hospital reporting fewer kittens being turned in. Behind a downtown drug store, Bromley said there were three strays with litters two summers ago and this past summer, residents saw no kittens.

“We’ve got to be making a difference. Even conservatively speaking, we have prevented the birth of thousands of cats.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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