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Groups work to control feral cat population boom in resort

(March 1, 2013) Although not typically used in the context of felines, the term “herd” probably best describes what happen whenever Susan Coleman opens a can of food at any one of the 13 feral cat colonies she tends to in and around the resort.

At the first tone of snapping aluminum, roughly two dozen wild cats emerge from the woods behind an abandoned home in West Ocean City, swarming around Coleman in hopes of grabbing their morning meal. Nearby, plastic crates with bedding and insulation have been provided for shelter in the damp underbrush.

“If I don’t’ fix this group, it’s going to go from 25 to 250,” said Coleman, who heads the local Community Cats Coalition. “There are even some new ones that I just noticed today.”

Last week, Coleman, along with representatives from the Delmarva Cat Connection and Town Cats organizations, solicited the mayor and City Council for a cooperative alliance in implementing a “Trap-Neuter-Return” (TNR) program as a humane and effective way to reduce the burgeoning feral cat population in Ocean City and Worcester County.

“We receive 15 to 20 calls per week, not only from Ocean City but throughout the county,” Coleman said. “We would like to be officially endorsed by the town.”

The TNR strategy involves trapping feral cats and spaying or neutering them before releasing them to their original habitat or a colony of free-range cats. Returning the animals prevents new, unneutered cats from moving in. Without any means of reproduction, the population will eventually diminish.

“If you just kill them or take them to shelters, the ones that you forgot move in and start all over again,” Coleman said. “Eventually over time, a number of years, the population will start to die out [if TNR is utilized].”

In the past year, Coleman and her partner organizations have collectively trapped, neutered, and released 369 animals within the city limits alone, she said. The organizations also work closely with the Ocean City Police Department’s Animal Control Division, taking un-owned cats corralled by officers.

“I use them for everything,” said Officer Barb Wisniewski.

Kittens and cats who appear to have been previously in homes are directly adopted out or given to animal shelters, Coleman said. The rest are typically neutered, vaccinated, and returned to where they came from. Those who cannot be returned to their original location, or cannot be introduced to colonies, are housed in a separate shelter or often given to local farmers as barn cats.

“If I know that somebody is going to feed them, I fix them and put them back,” Coleman said.

The feral cat population in and around Ocean City is particularly difficult to control, Coleman said, given the seasonal nature of the town. The end of summer produces a glut of animals.

“All winter I do this … we get all our colonies stabilized and then someone throws one out and it starts all over again,” Coleman said.

Information about cat trapping will be disseminated through the resort’s media, and the OCPD will continue to work with Coleman and the other groups on the initiative.

“It is needed, and I think we’re very fortunate to have you,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.

Anyone interested in helping or donating to the TNR program is urged to contact Coleman at 443-909-8047 or susan@communitycatscoalition.com. The group offers a discount rate of $45 to spay/neuter, de-worm, and vaccinate cats against rabies.

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