Breeding season for feral cats leaves neighborhoods taking action

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Animal control officers in Charleston County say they've seen an increase in the number of calls regarding feral cats in neighborhoods recently.

These cats live in the wild and are typically scared of humans.

Homeowners in the Lenevar neighborhood of West Ashley said they have a huge feral cat population which roams their streets.

"Usually [we see them] early morning and late afternoon because they come to eat the food out there," said Archie Durland, of West Ashley.

Durland and his wife, Lou, have lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.

While there have always been cats around, the couple said there's been an increase over the last few weeks and they're doing something about it.

"We can set traps for them," said Charleston Co. Sheriff's Deputy Sarah Hake with the Animal Control Unit. "We have a contract with the Charleston Animal Society where all of our cats go to them."

Deputy Hake said she responds to multiple calls like this year-round. Usually in the Spring, she has a long list of people reporting high numbers of kittens born in neighborhoods.

According to Chief Executive Officer Joe Elmore with the Charleston Animal Society, Spring is usually the first, and major breeding season for cats.

"It's known as Mount Kitty, because when you look at a graph the increase makes a mountain," he said.

Elmore added a second breeding season usually takes place mid-to-late September and can run into October.

Due to the number of cats, the Durlands kept seeing in their backyard and around the neighborhood, they first called the Sheriff's Office for traps.

On two different occasions recently, they went through the Charleston Animal Society's program.

"[I] picked up the trap, brought it home, put it out that night," Durland said. "The next morning I had one of the cats, and took it up [to Remount Road]."

The cats and kittens that are trapped in these neighborhoods are then spayed or neutered. They'll also have a different look to them if they return to the neighborhood.

"While they have them under anesthesia for surgery, they take the tip of their left ear off so that you can identify from a distance if the cat has already been through the program," Hake said.

Elmore said three ordinances went into effect in 2010 to try and curb the growing feral cat population. Among the agencies that participate by bringing feral cats to the animal society include the Mt. Pleasant Police Department, North Charleston Police Department, and the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.

Pet Helpers and Humane Net were also part of getting the new ordinances passed in 2010.

Elmore said 18 months after implementing the ordinance, officials saw a 20% reduction in the feral cat population.

2016 statistics from the Charleston Animal Society show 1,745 cats were brought to the shelter, sterilized, and then returned to the community through the TVAR program (Trap, Vaccinate, Alter, and Return). In addition to that number, 2,601 kittens were brought in, vaccinated, and nearly all were placed in foster care or adopted.

Feral kittens can be domesticated if they're very young.

While most of the cats will remain skittish of humans, some do become friendly like "BK" who comes around the Durland's house.

In the meantime, they're hoping news of this program spreads.

"I don't know if other people in the neighborhood know there is someplace you can call and get this done, without cost, which makes it really, really good," said Lou Durland.

Elmore said these programs and ordinances are meant to manage the feral cat population, as opposed to euthanization.

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