Feral cat colony upsets many in neighborhood

By Vicki Hyatt | Jun 24, 2014
Linda Caldwell, Anita Hawkins and Marie Sutton are upset about a feral cat colony in their neighborhood.

A colony of feral cats in the Balsam area has some homeowners up in arms about the damages being done by the wild and elusive creatures.

Others in the community, however, are putting out food provided by the Haywood Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) program, whose leaders are searching for a solution to the complaints.

While Karen Caldwell has lived in the Balsam Terrace Trailer Park on Old Balsam Road for several years, it wasn’t until she purchased a new vehicle that she reached her boiling point about the feral cats.

“When I had an older vehicle, it wasn’t too big of a deal," she said, "but then I got this new Jeep, and in just two months, it is scratched all to pieces. I want to know who is responsible.”

While the scratches are very light, Caldwell fears it will only be a matter of time before weather deepens them and the cats do even more damage.

It’s not just paw marks and scratches on vehicles that upset many in the trailer park.

“They got under my house last year and tore up the insulation,” said park resident Gary Ledford. "My heating bill went up to $650 a month. Then my water lines froze and busted. That’s a pretty expensive thing to not even own a cat.”

Neighbor Annette Hawkins was also upset by the colony.

“I got new insulation through Mountain Projects under my trailer,” she said. “What good will it do me when the cats get in there?”

“This is a darn shame,” chimed in her mother, Marie Sutton. “These cats are a nuisance. Why do they put them in trailer parks?”

The cats are aggressive in working their way beneath the trailer and even patches don't keep them out, residents say.

Hawkins said it is not only the damage to the trailer insulation, but the strong odor that is offensive.

Caldwell agreed.

“You never see them in the day, but at night they come in the yard and make a mess. My grandson was getting ringworm from playing out there,” she said.

Group members have made several calls to the county animal control office and the TNR program, and while there have been suggestions, few are ones the residents are happy with.

Solving the problem

Jean Hazzard, the county’s animal control officer, said generally the county doesn’t like to euthanize cats that have been vaccinated for rabies, neutered or spayed and returned to where they were caught, which is the case with the feral cats that are part of the TNR program. These cats are readily visible because a notch is placed in their ear to indicate they aren’t capable of reproducing.

Still, Hazzard said, it is not acceptable for them to roam and be a nuisance to the community.

Complaints have been referred to Susan Kumpf, who oversees Haywood’s volunteer TNR program.

“Animal services does respond if an issue continues and the residents in the area of a TNR colony no longer want the cats there,” Hazzard said, “but we contact Ms. Kumpf to review an alternative.”

Kumpf provided a history of the colony, as well as several suggestions to address the problem.

With grant funding, Haywood Spay/Neuter started a TNR colony at Balsam Terrace in April 2011. Since that date, 23 cats have been fixed and vaccinated from this park.

“About 10 ear-tipped cats remain,” Kumpf said. “Some were killed on the road; some were trapped and taken to the shelter; some just disappeared and others were shot to death.”

After decades of trying the trap-remove-kill approach to controlling free-roaming cat populations, TNR is the only solution that consistently results in stable colonies and lower cat intakes at shelters, saving significant tax dollars, Kumpf said.

“Killing cats does not work,” she emphasized. “The vacuum effect means that new, unfixed cats move in when we take fixed cats away from the neighborhood.”

Major corporations such as PetSmart recognize this truth, she said, and provide generous donations. Since 2009, PetSmart Charities has granted $146,400 to Haywood Spay/Neuter to support the TNR project in Haywood County.

Even if cats in the colony aren’t being fed, there’s plenty of shelter, food and water available, she said, and that doesn’t necessarily mean its provided by humans, though TNR regularly drops off food for the colony that's dispersed by several park residents.

Cats live in areas that provide shelter, food, and water, she said. Shelter includes abandoned burrows, ditches, thickets or crawl spaces, food includes rodents and other wildlife or unsecured garbage and water can be found in creeks, drainage ditches, potholes or birdbaths.

“TNR advocates know that cats prefer high places and will burrow for shelter,” Kumpf said. “The top complaints against free-roaming TNR cats are scratches on cars, tearing up insulation beneath trailers and killing birds. Residents are at a disadvantage when it comes to scratches on their cars unless they have an enclosed garage or use an auto cover.”

Kumpf said the Haywood Spay/Neuter TNR program has offered to provide Caldwell with an auto cover, put lime in her yard to deal with the cat feces and provide a motion-activated sprinkler that releases a short but startling burst of water when it detects animals.

“She insists that the only sure way to protect her property is by killing all the cats. She insists that she is not responsible to secure her property since the cats are not hers,” Kumpf said. “Unfortunately, Ms. Caldwell and Haywood Spay/Neuter are at an impasse. She refuses to acknowledge the science behind TNR and is very set on a kill solution.”

Taking the legal approach to trap and remove cats on her trailer lot will set Caldwell and others on an endless cycle, Kumpf predicted.

“Unfixed cats will come in and reproduce, undermining her solution,” she said. “Cats taken to the shelter are dealt with at taxpayer expense.”

As for Caldwell, she said the warranty will cover the scratches on her new vehicle, but she doesn't want any more problems from the cats.

"They need to be gone from here," she said.

Nonetheless, the residents at the park believe the main reason the group of wild cats is sticking around the neighborhood is because those running the TNR program have found several families in the park who will set out the feed provided through the organization.

Many of the cats were abandoned in the neighborhood when a tenant moved away.