Spay your cats!
Growing feline population causing extra urban friction
Wildlife watchers say free-ranging cats account for significant losses every year
A Southeast Portland neighborhood controversy over a homeowner's right to trap trespassing cats highlights a larger issue for the metro area: how to keep the peace in the man-made ecosystem of city neighborhoods.
Mount Tabor resident Mike McCabe has gained notoriety for taking a neighbor's cat that he feared would harm the birds in his yard to Multnomah County Animal Services, where it was euthanized for lack of room.
But sentiment from residents all over Portland and its suburbs also indicates that in environments where disparate animals such as migratory birds, native snakes and invasive opossums are thrown together, cats are increasingly public enemy No. 1.
As people have become more diligent about trying to improve urban habitat, said Bob Sallinger, urban conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, they have become more frustrated with the destruction cats cause not only of birds but also of squirrels, raccoons and snakes.
Urban cat populations are growing, causing agencies and nonprofit groups to search for ways to mediate between the rights of property owners and the rights of pet owners.
"It's like the cigarette issue," said Kathy Covey of the Oregon Humane Society. "Where does the right to have a cat end and the right as a property owner begin?"
McCabe's actions caused controversy, which also affected one family unrelated to the incident. McCabe's phone number is not listed, but a Northeast Portland resident named Michael McCabe said several people angry about the cat-trapping had called his home and left threatening messages.
One man called at 2 a.m. Thursday to say he hoped McCabe "burned in hell." By Thursday afternoon, his wife had changed their answering machine greeting, telling callers that they were not the McCabes involved in the cat incident.
Cats outnumber dogs in Multnomah County, according to the county's animal shelter. Washington County Animal Services estimates that 70,000 cats populate its jurisdiction.
"There's a great overpopulation problem with cats," said Susan Field, community relations coordinator with Washington County Animal Services. Field said the overpopulation is caused in part by owners not being as diligent about spaying and neutering cats as dogs.
Sallinger said the growing numbers of cats contribute heavily to destroying urban wildlife habitat.
Low survival rate for victims From 1995 to 1999, 23 percent of the more than 3,000 injured animals brought to the Audubon Society each year were directly connected to cats, Sallinger said. The organization has received as many as 15 cat-caught birds a day. Animals caught by cats and brought into Audubon have a 14 percent survival rate.
Even in the hybrid environment created by urban neighborhoods where cats kill other pests, Sallinger said, "Cats add nothing to the ecosystem."
Animal control agencies may be hard-pressed to solve the problem. Like Multnomah County, Field said, Washington County's facility is always at capacity. A year and a half ago, the county shelter increased its cat capacity from 28 to 48 cages and was full again within two days. The county also lacks a licensing program.
Field said the agency has an active adoption program that sends outreach staff into schools and community groups, but that can't stop a certain amount of euthanasia.
Meanwhile, Clackamas County Animal Control doesn't deal with cats at all.
According to data collected by the Oregon Humane Society, in 2001, animal services agencies and humane societies took in about 20,000 cats that were relinquished by their owners and 23,000 that came in as strays. Of those, 16,500 cats were adopted, 600 were given back to their owners, and 26,000 were euthanized.
Keeping kitties indoors With those huge numbers, many experts, including Portland-area animal control agencies and the Oregon Humane Society, put the onus on cat owners to be more responsible. The answer, they say, lies in educating pet owners about the dangers of letting their cats roam free -- and the benefits of keeping them indoors.
"With a little patience, you can convert an indoor-outdoor cat to an indoor cat," said Covey, pointing to the use of scratching posts and toys, in addition to good access to window sills.
And if cat owners can't bear to keep their animals in, Covey offers this advice: "Microchip, microchip, microchip."
The grain of rice-sized chip fits between a cat's shoulder blades and includes the same information a collar does. While the chip helps identify the cat, it doesn't prevent it from trespassing. But, Covey said, neighbors encouraging each other to know the neighborhood's cats might mitigate the problems caused by such intrusion.
Covey adds that there are other ways for property owners to prevent cats from intruding in their yards than taking them to an overcrowded shelter. Cats are repelled by cayenne pepper and may not return to a place where they smelled it. The same goes for spraying cats with sprinklers, squirt bottles or hoses.
And more creative ways to let cats enjoy the outdoors without bothering the neighbors do exist. Doris Clevenger of Clackamas constructed a screen around her patio and a small patch of grass. She said she took in one cat that was used to roaming, and it has been happy in the enclosure.
"It's a long-term thing," Sallinger said, noting that cats are the one destructive part of the urban animal community that we do have control over. "You can keep your cat indoors. If we do that, we'll solve this problem in 20 or 30 years." Joseph Rose of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Portland News: 503-221-8199; email@example.com
Another idea is to put bells on your cats collar to warn the birds or wildlife.
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