Cats gone wild

A GROUP OF FERAL CATS encircle a couple bowls of food placed on a piece of property in Harrison.

A GROUP OF FERAL CATS encircle a couple bowls of food placed on a piece of property in Harrison.

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

HARRISON — A big field with a barn provided the perfect environment for a few abandoned cats.

Left to their own devices, the cats began to breed and soon the numbers reached a few dozen. Cats have the ability to become pregnant at as young as three months old. In a matter of time, another 30 kittens were ready to be born into the feral cat colony.

This is not a factious tale, but a true story that plays out in western Maine and the Lake Region, according to Stephanie Mains, the president of the Cat Coalition of Western Maine (CCWM).

The real joy for Mains comes from live trapping, taking care of, and releasing feral adult cats back to their original colonies. She takes comfort in knowing that those cats can live out the remainder of their lives — without reproducing more kittens and continuing to contribute to this problem.

“We all have such a love for doing this, because we really want to help cats,” she said. “We have been working on a farm in Harrison since early March. They had 25-plus cats. Some of them were pregnant. All but two cats have been captured and fixed. We are still trying to catch those two.”

Thirty-three kittens were born to the five or six pregnant cats that were live trapped, she said.

Additionally, volunteers entered the barn, and snagged several newborn kittens.

“If the kittens stay too long, they pick up the feral traits really fast. So, the sooner you have hands-on experiences with the kittens, the more quickly they socialize to humans,” Mains said.

The kittens are placed in the homes of foster families until they are ready for adoption.

Next, the group will turn its attention to a feral cat colony located off Tenney Hill Road in Casco.

There, surrounding neighbors have fed the cats and even built small structures for them. However, neighbors do not have the resources or the finances to capture and fix the feral cats.

“That is what our job is: To educate people, to get the word out that we are here,” she said.

“Some people move and leave their pets behind. It becomes a snowball effect. Don’t up and leave your cat behind when you move,” Mains said.

Without a safe home and human care, the cats are forced to fend for themselves, and eat out of trashcans. With rough Maine winters, some cats starve to death.

“A female cat can have three litters a year. You can have 100 cats born in a season,” she explained. “You have predators like coyotes and fox that are picking them off. That is no way for a kitten’s life to end.”

Mains added, “If a kitten is born into the wild, if it doesn’t have human touch, it will become feral. They are dangerous. You have to be careful because when a cat becomes frightened, it will fight and flight.”

A scared cat will scratch or bite anyone blocking its escape.

Animal Control Officer Bobby Silcott will attest to how lethal feral cats can be.

“Cats are the most dangerous carrier of rabies. The problem is we are drawn to them. If we see a wild animal, we think that that there is no way we would try to pick it up,” he said.

Recently, a feral kitten infected three people, and tested positive for rabies, Silcott said.

Many organizations offer low-cost or free spaying and neutering to help reduce the cat population. He added that is the go-to website for spay and neuter information.

“It is just a simple phone call to them,” he said. “The resources are out there. So, for the pet owner, there is a little bit of self-responsibility.”

Mains recommended that people do not adopt a cat if they cannot or will not spay or neuter the animal. It is just too easy for the cat population to multiply, she said.

“This is an ongoing thing. We are only putting a little dent in it. It is a major problem that humans have created,” she said.

To donate cat food or monetary gifts or become a foster family for rescued kittens, check out Cat Coalition of Western Maine’s Facebook page. People can also contact CCWM to get resources on reduced-cost spaying or neutering for their domestic pets. 

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