Jasper’s animal control officer cages a member of the growing nuisance stray cat population in the city.
“There are cats everywhere you look,” said Jasper’s Animal Control Officer Tuesday while giving a firsthand tour of the problem he reported at the previous night’s city council meeting.
And Animal Control Officer Lonnie Waters isn’t exaggerating – big orange toms, solid blacks ones, black ones with white paws – more than a dozen cats are spotted within thirty minutes while driving around the Lily Circle/ Friendship Baptist and Georgianna Streets areas.
Waters estimates about half these cats are completely feral – having been born and grown to maturity in this area with no human contact. The other half were dumped out or abandoned.
Trapping efforts have taken at least 15 felines off the streets in the past weeks since the cat population exploded this spring.
According to the report given by Waters at Monday's city council meeting, adoption efforts in conjunction with the county animal shelter are working, and before this explosion in kitties, the stray animal situation had improved and was even under control for awhile.
Then this spring something like a Biblical plague of cats hit town, the epicenter being South Main and neighborhoods on either side of it.
"There are way too many [stray cats] to even attempt to count," Waters told council members. He had responded to one call that day for a litter of seven he was going to attempt to herd into cages the next day.
While on the Tuesday driving tour, he went to one home where the owner said she believes there are four nursing mother cats roaming in a semi-wooded area behind her house.
At another house, Waters said the owner said her garden has become a litter box for the roaming cats.
Waters' report to the council showed a picture of dozens of cats and listed the following streets as having a stray cat problem: Richard, Georgianna, East and West Sellers, Elizabeth, Moore, East Church, Bell.The report ended with "way too many to try and count!!!!"
Waters was asked if the picture was one he took of local felines. He said no, but "it is that bad."
On Tuesday, Waters was able to catch one of the cats in about 15 minutes at a home near Friendship Baptist Church on Lilly Circle. When that cat sprang the live trap three others were waiting in line to get to the bait. Waters estimated that he could catch cats as fast as he could haul the animals to the county shelter.
Waters said catching some of the less feral cats isn’t difficult, but for the completely wild ones, it’s tough. Some of the cats spotted on Tuesday fled as soon as Waters stopped the city truck and weren’t seen again – the wildest of the roamers. Others, however, took a few steps back when the truck stopped but didn’t move out of sight – most likely abandoned pets accustomed to humans.
Waters said his plan is to catch all he can before the population gets any more out of control. He said there are no plans for any type of cat killing, as this could violate animal cruelty laws and would create too much controversy. The only animals ever “put down” are those that are sick, injured or too wild to rehabilitate. The euthanization is handled at the county’s animal shelter in a licensed procedure. Waters himself is not certified for dispatching animals, only catching them.
“We’ve got to get these captured, or it will get totally out of control,” he said.
For the Tuesday demonstration, Waters drove the captured white and orange spotted cat to the county facility on Camp Road.
The City of Jasper and Pickens County work together on animal issues, and the city is able to bring the animals they trap to the shelter. But at this point, the facility is overflowing with both dogs and cats, according to shelter personnel.
The cat in the cage was “not too wild” by Waters’ estimation. Once at the shelter, it slipped free of an inmate (working there on an inmate work detail) who had reached in the cage with padded gloves. Taking some bloody-clawed revenge, the cat ran up the inmate’s back and over a counter. After a short chase, the feline was bare-handed by Brandi Strawn, shelter director.
This cat will be held for ten days while it is assessed for disease and for aggressiveness. If after that it is considered too wild to safely handle, it will be euthanized.
If it has calmed down, it will be put up for adoption. Strawn said it is hard to tell the first day if an animal will calm down or not. “I give them every chance I can,” she said, holding them ten days, double the required five day holding period.
Even if adoptable, with 90 cats and kittens already awaiting adoption, the chances this cat will end up in a good home are low. Kittens go first, and there are only so many homes out there. Strawn remarked as the fazed and stunned cat was re-caged, “all because people won’t spay and neuter.”
Waters’ report to the council also noted an increase in dogs apparently “dumped out” by former owners.
He said this is a disappointing turn, as they thought the stray situation was "under control for awhile."
Mayor John Weaver responded to Waters’ report, "I don't know how we ever got by when we just ignored this problem." The city only began taking animal control in earnest two or three years ago as the county began planning for its animal shelter.
Waters replied to Weaver, "Nature took care of it."
For anyone wanting to help with the cats or any of the stray animals in the county, the shelter on Camp Road hosts volunteers days on the mornings of May 12th and May 26th this month.