The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

February 4, 2013

Ryan Richardson: Feral felines treated friendly in Carthage

JOPLIN, Mo. — Residents help wild cats find their place in the city

I wanted to change gears this week and bring a little local color to the column. I'm still learning about the wonderful things that pet advocates have done in the area that go above and beyond normal volunteering, and I'll highlight their efforts when I find out about them.

I discovered what some Carthage residents have done to address the issue of feral cats in their town. If you aren't familiar with that term, feral cats are those that have been born and raised in the wild, or cats that have been released and have turned wild to survive.

It's not an easy life. The life expectancy of these cats is usually only a couple of years. Feral cats are in almost every town and can become a nuisance if the problem is not addressed. They crowd shelters, which can do little for them because in most cases these cats aren't adoptable. Many of them will be euthanized.

That situation changed in Carthage in 2010, thanks to some dedicated people. The results have been beneficial for both the cats and the townspeople.

With a push from feline advocacy group Spare Cat Rescue, laws were changed in Carthage to establish feral cat colonies that are managed by registered caregivers.

Carthage resident Kaylene Cole is one of the founders of Spare Cat Rescue. She was instrumental in changing the city's laws to accommodate the people who feed feral cats and how the cats are taken care of inside the city.

"The best way we could help feral cats was by keeping them out of the shelters," Cole said. "The way the laws have changed has kept them alive, kept them fed and kept them out of harm's way, while also keeping their population in check."

Now, when a feral cat is picked up by animal control, it is spayed or neutered, given shots and marked by clipping its ear, so they can be identified. They are then released back into a specific colony. This breaks their breeding cycle and keeps them out of shelters.

Former Carthage City Councilman Bill Welsh said that since the program's inception in early 2010, there has been a giant drop in euthanasia for these cats.

"We worked hand in hand with the police to change the laws here," Welsh said. "We didn't want people to get in trouble for trying to do the humane thing in feeding these animals and not wanting to see them go to a shelter where their lives will most likely end. Since this program started, the kill rate has dropped dramatically."

Welsh also said that these cats help keep the rodent population down in the community.

"Keeping vermin down can help the community, but the cat population needs to be kept in check, too," Welsh said. "If this wasn't in place, the cat numbers would keep growing and growing, and their food would be even more scarce."

Spare Cat Rescue tries to help feral cats while they are still young, so the cats can be adopted. The program does monthly adoption drives at local Petsmart stores to find homes for the kittens.

"If they are socialized early enough, they can be put in homes," Welsh said. "They can make great pets if they don't turn feral."

Spare Cat Rescue runs completely on donations and grants. For more information or to donate, visit the group's blog at http://sparecatrescue.wordpress.com. The website also lists upcoming events in the area.

I want to thank those of you who have taken your time to email me stories about your animals. I am working hard to find a way to include your tales in my future stories. I have been reading them all, and I appreciate your interest in my column.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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