By Lisa Capobianco
For local resident Pat Angle of Spring Lake Village Condominiums, close encounters with feral cats has become a recurring theme where she lives. From the time she moved into her unit in the 1980s, Angle said the felines have roamed around her condo, looking for shelter.
“I have been here for 26 years,” Angle said. “There have always been feral cats.”
According to The Animal Center, a volunteer-based animal welfare charity in Newtown, feral cats are the “wild offspring of domestic cats” and are primarily the result of cat owners’ abandonment or failure to spay and neuter their animals, allowing them to breed uncontrolled.”
Angle said out of the 11 feral cats of the original colony, five more exist near her unit now, with one possibly being a stray. With the help of Southington Animal Rescue, Angle controlled the size of the cat colony through a Trap-Neuter-Return program. Under this program, volunteers of the rescue group trap, evaluate and vaccinate the cats, preventing the colony to grow beyond its capacity.
“We have had no new kittens at Pat’s complex within two years,” said Susan Mazer, a volunteer of Southington Animal Rescue who has helped Angle.
Although the executive board of Angle’s unit approved of the TNR program, it did not approve of feeding the feral cats, Angle said. Angle shared Spring Lake Village’s pet policy which made it clear that feeding animals outdoors is prohibited.
“You do not starve these animals when they are in need,” Angle said. “Rules can be modified.”
According to Angle, the executive board also told her in a letter that the cats pose a health threat to the community, and other residents saw them digging in gardens. Although the president and vice president of Angle’s condo unit did not return calls left for comment, Peter Boychuck, one of the directors at Spring Lake Village, said the existence of feral cats has been an “issue,” but would not explain the extent of the situation within Angle’s complex or the policy regarding outside pets.
Holly Smith, the secretary, also refused to comment.
“We have no comment as a board,” Smith said.
Mazer said the remaining feral cats around Angle’s unit do not pose a health hazard because they underwent the TNR program. Although she agrees with Angle that rules should be modified, Mazer said when she tried educating the board on feral cats, its members tried to understand the situation.
“I think they are nice people, but they felt torn,” Mazer said, citing misinformation and fear as the route of the problem. “They wanted to help… [but]…they feel like if they allow feeding, there could be a backlash from residents.”
Cindy Mulhearn, the director of TOMcat Rescue in Southington, said humans have misperceptions about feral cats, which do not pose health threats to the community unless they test positive for diseases. According to Mulhearn, rescue groups like hers always test the cats for diseases before returning them to the wild.
“These cats are not carrying diseases,” Mulhearn said. “They do not attack people.”
An estimated 50 million feral cats exist throughout the nation, according to The Humane Society’s website. In Connecticut, this number could reach thousands. Dave Ireland, the Canine Patrol Officer of Southington said that although he only handles dogs, the issue of feral cats is “an issue everywhere.”
The Friends of Cheshire Feral Cats, a nonprofit organization that offers a TNR program for feral cats, agreed.
“It is hard to estimate how many feral cats are actually in Connecticut, but in Cheshire alone we have provided TNR for over 3,500 cats, and that’s just one town,” according to the non-profit organization. “The numbers remain high even with TNR efforts and that’s because not all groups in Connecticut do TNR.”
Mulhearn said she receives countless phone calls every day from residents in Southington as well as other surrounding areas including Plainville and Bristol. She said condominium complexes serve as ideal places for feral cats.
“I get five calls every day,” Mulhearn said. “People leave the cats in apartments when they leave.”
Angle and her sister said they hoped for an organization or rescue group to find a home for the remaining cats. But according to Mulhearn and Mazer, feral cats are not meant to become domesticated unless they are rescued before they turn ten weeks old.
“You cannot relocate feral cats,” Mazer said.” “You have to socialize them within the first ten weeks of their life,” Mulhearn said. “After 10 to 12 weeks, it is hard to socialize them.”