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Good Cats, Bad Owners

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2000 – Don't blame cats for reproducing, DoD environmental specialists say. Blame people.

People are the root of feline overpopulation problems so common to military installations. They often fail to neuter their pet cats, and some abandon their feline friends when they move, according to environmental biologist Peter J. Egan of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board at Walter Read Army Medical Center here.

"People drive onto post and let their cats go, thinking one of these nice military families will adopt them. Some military families do the same when they relocate," he said. Kind-hearted people complicate the problem by feeding the cats, said Egan, whose office has received complaints about flea-infested buildings caused by feral cats living in crawl spaces.

"It's one of these terrible cycles," he continued. "Humans have created the problem, and due to neglect or kindness, humans help perpetuate it."

Military installations and college campuses have the highest populations of stray and feral cats, according to Alison Dalsimer, a contract natural resource management specialist with DoD's environmental security office.

"It's because of the transient nature of the populations. People go to college, they want a cute little kitten for a year, they graduate and they dump the kitten," she explained. "People get transfered to an installation, the kids want pets, they get a cat, then they get transferred to Korea or Germany. They can't take the pet with them, so they just leave them."

Some pet owners don't have the heart to take unwanted pets to animal shelters because it's highly likely they'll be euthanized, Dalsimer said. As many as 60,000 cats and dogs are put to sleep in shelters every day.

So people release the cats and tell themselves maybe someone will adopt them. "I guess that's a convenient way people get around the issue, but it sure creates a problem in the long run," she said.

Left on their own, cats gravitate toward any available food source. Stray cats -- lost or abandoned pets -- form colonies centered on garbage dumpsters or other food sources where rodents feed. The cats procreate. A fertile female can produce three litters of four to six kittens per year.

When strays breed, their offspring grow up feral -- wild, never domesticated. Feral cats may live near humans, but they're not about to be touched by human hands. Not without a major struggle, that is.

Feral cats can carry ringworm, parasites, rabies, plague, and a range of other fatal and nonfatal diseases. Cat scratches and bites can transmit serious bacterial infections. Cats can also damage buildings, contaminate food supplies, and kill birds and other wildlife.

Without human support, the cats succumb to starvation, weather, diseases, vehicles, and attacks by dogs, other animals or people. In many cases, the cats live less than half the lifespan they'd enjoy as indoor pets.

"The tragedy is that these animals have a miserable existence," Dalsimer said. "They often go without food. Nobody gives them any affection. It's a short, awful life."

Editor's Note: This is one article in a comprehensive special report at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/cats/.

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