TORRINGTON – The problem of stray cats in Torrington has been around a while, according to Animal Control Officer Teri Shinost, but the department is working on a new project to vaccinate, sterilize and rehome them.
“We recognize that it’s a problem we’re going to have to address because people in our community are asking for help,” Chief of Police Matt Johnson said.
Currently, Shinost is putting together a list of potential homes for feral cats outside of Torrington’s city limits. People interested in barn cats can call 307-532-7002 or email [email protected] for more information.
A feral cat, according to Shinost, is any cat that is too poorly socialized to be handled and cannot be placed into a typical pet home.
A series of Facebook posts from Torrington’s shelter, Waggin’ Tails addressed the topic.
“Although the cats themselves are often at the center of the storm, feral cats are a ‘people problem.’ They are the offspring of outdoor intact cats – owned or abandoned. Some people feed them, others provide veterinary care; some feel sorry for them but do nothing, others believe they should be removed and destroyed.”
Feral and free-roaming cats can cause several problems in a community. Shinost noted diseases can be transmitted between people and animals, specifically ringworm.
Another worry is the welfare of the cats themselves. Feral cats are vulnerable to hazards like vehicles and dogs.
Torrington Animal Control has received numerous nuisance complaints about feral and free-roaming cats, according to Shinost.
“Complaints include such behaviors as spraying, fouling yards and gardens with feces, yowling and fighting; sick, injured, or dead cats; and dirty footprints on cars,” reads one of the Facebook posts.
The police department, according to Shinost, started receiving a high volume of complaints about cats in 2014.
In response, “we gathered a group of community members to have conversations about what we needed to do in regard to that situation,” said Shinost.
At that time, city ordinances regarding cats were created.
The ordinances (Sec. 6.04.470), address several cat-related issues.
They state that cats are not prohibited from running at large unless they are determined to be a nuisance. An animal may become a public nuisance due to excessive noise, chasing vehicles or people, attacking other animals, trespassing or not being spayed or neutered.
The ordinances state that it is unlawful to feed a stray cat without taking full responsibility for it – providing food, water, shelter, vaccinations and sterilization.
Cats must be licensed by the police department if they are kept within city limits. To license an animal, a certificate of rabies vaccination is required.
The creation of cat-related ordinances allowed animal control enforcement powers when complaints were received.
Animal control has been able to provide options for people affected by feral or outdoor cats.
“The remedies for those situations has been me trying to mediate between the complainant and the cat owner,” said Shinost.
The feral cat project addresses issues that aren’t easily solved by the city’s ordinances.
“We’re bumping into more situations where our usual method of trying to resolve it isn’t successful or takes more effort,” said Johnson.
Johnson said he referred Shinost to a home with several cats in the backyard, along with a substantial odor from spray and feces.
“That’s much harder to mediate, and people have a right to not have that impact on their property,” said Johnson.
“We have folks who would like to see us take action tomorrow,” Johnson said.
However, Johnson noted, there are some unique factors at play.
Johnson stressed the importance of keeping the Waggin’ Tails shelter a safe, healthy and clean environment for domestic animals.
There are significant risks to bringing feral, unvaccinated animals into that environment. Some of those risks include disease transfer, fighting, escaping the facility and injury to Shinost or the shelter’s volunteers.
Johnson and Shinost hope they can receive funding to add about 460 square feet to the shelter to specifically deal with feral animals.
Shinost is currently raising funds to vaccinate and sterilize feral cats to later be rehomed as barn cats, outside city limits.
In addition, the facility would allow Waggin’ Tails to house the cats until it can be verified that they are not someone’s pet and until the animals are vaccinated and sterilized.
Right now, Shinost is working on putting together a list of individuals who are interested in barn cats. This first step is vital because if there is no place for the feral cats to go, Waggin’ Tails won’t need funds for vet care, said Shinost.
Potential barn cat recipients must be outside the city limits and be prepared to confine the cats from 21 to 30 days. Shinost said in order for the cats to stick around, they will need to understand their new home and know where to eat.
Once a list of interested parties has been made, raising funds will be more of a priority.
Individuals can support this project through Waggin’ Tails’ Go Fund Me on their Facebook page.
“That would be hugely appreciated,” said Shinost.
Johnson said transparency is key when dealing with this issue.
“One of things we want to avoid is showing up and impacting people’s pets,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, it will be important for pet owners to properly identify their pets – to make sure they are licensed, complying with city ordinances and for outdoor cats, wearing identification tags.
When animal control starts trapping, Johnson said the department will notify residents of the area and provide updates on the shelter’s Facebook page.
Shinost said trapping will not start until the weather gets warmer.
“We do need folks to follow the rules,” said Johnson. “There’s reasons that we have rules about licensing and vaccinating and all the other things our ordinances cover. We want to have a safe community.”
Johnson said the department will be able to address the issue in a limited way late this spring. If funds are approved for the shelter expansion, Johnson hopes to be aggressively addressing the issue by next year.
Individuals who are having issues with feral cats can contact animal control at 307-532-7001 or [email protected]