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Animals In Print
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From Animals in Print 12 February 2001 Issue:

HELP FERAL CATS FIND HOME http://www.fredericksburg.com/news/Local/Spotsylvania/0131cats.htm  

College cries foul, removes cat houses

By LAURA L. HUTCHISON The Free Lance-Star

A colony of feral cats that made its home at Strayer University for the past few years has been left without shelter.

The seven cats, who have all been sterilized and vaccinated by the Rappahannock Humane Society, had shelter and bedding behind a large holly bush on the university’s Spotsylvania County campus, at the rear of its building on State Route 3.

Thea Verdak, president of the Humane Society, received word last week that Strayer is under new ownership, and that the cats’ shelter, food and toys were to be removed by 6 a.m. this past Sunday.

“I went over on Saturday, and it was a very windy, very cold day, and I could not remove their shelter,” Verdak said yesterday. “On Sunday, I went and put a laminated copy of the Lord’s Prayer near their bedding, hoping it would help them decide not to remove it.”

It didn’t. On Monday afternoon, Verdak received an e–mail telling her the shelter and bedding had been removed from around the building and placed in a field.

“It was a situation that really progressively got out of hand over the past several months,” said Clay Orsborne, campus coordinator of Strayer’s Spotsylvania campus, which is at 4500 Plank Road. “First, we had one cat house on the property, then bedding, dishes, a scratching post. We wound up with six cat houses here, and it didn’t look like a university.”

Verdak, who works in Washington, went to Strayer on Monday evening to find the bedding piled in a field near a parking lot, with the seven cats wandering around.

“It was a horrible situation,” she said. “This was their home, and they didn’t know where they were supposed to be. They were following us around as we loaded their things in the van.”

Verdak became involved with the cats at Strayer about two years ago, at the request of an employee there. A large colony had formed, with several litters of kittens.

Verdak’s group trapped the kittens and placed them in homes. But adult feral cats are not accustomed to human contact, and in most cases cannot be socialized and placed in homes.

So the group trapped the adults, sterilized them and obtained other needed veterinary care, then returned them to the location to become what is called a managed colony.

In a managed colony, the cats are given shelter and food. A caretaker bonds with the animals and watches for any sign of illness or injury. If they need health care, the cats are trapped again, taken to a vet and then returned to the colony.

“We harbor no ill will toward the cats,” Orsborne said. “The Humane Society has done a marvelous job in what they do. It’s a situation where one person went way beyond what needed to be done. We hate that it had to come to this.

“The cats are free to roam the campus, come and go, do whatever. We didn’t ask that the cats be removed, just the equipment.”

Orsborne said he asked Verdak several times to remove the cat equipment. Verdak said the e–mail she received last week was the first such request.

Donna Wilcox, executive director of Alley Cat Allies, a national group that promotes nonlethal population control of feral cats, said there was no reason for the cats’ shelters to be removed.

“Feral cats are afraid of people, and won’t even get close to them, so the incidence of a health risk is minimal to begin with,” Wilcox said. “Since this is a managed colony, it’s non-existent.”

Orsborne didn’t mention a health threat as a justification for having the bedding and shelter removed, but it is often cited as a public concern about feral colonies. His concerns were strictly about appearance, saying some people wondered if all the cat equipment belonged to a homeless person taking shelter on the campus.

Wilcox said that without shelter and a regular food source—Verdak said it’s been made clear she’s not welcome on campus to feed the cats—the animals will probably become sick and injured and die if there’s no further intervention.

“It’s very inhumane to be doing this,” Wilcox said. “These animals will suffer terribly.”

The best alternative available to Strayer is relocating the colony, which both Wilcox and Verdak said is difficult.

Cats from relocated colonies must be confined for weeks to get accustomed to their new surroundings. Even then, they are likely to run away in search of their original home.

The colony must be relocated as a whole, and it’s difficult to find someone willing to take seven cats, Wilcox said.

And ridding itself of this colony won’t mean feral cats are gone from Strayer, Wilcox said. The animals will have plenty of food because Strayer is located next door to a restaurant with a trash bin.

“As long as there’s a food source there, more cats will move in, because there are no cats there to keep them out,” she said. “Those cats won’t be spayed or neutered, and you’re going to start this whole process all over again.”

Anyone interested in providing a home for the cat colony may contact Thea Verdak at 785–4388 or by e–mail at thea@rhspetnet.org .

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