Delaware cats target feral cats for neutering

DOVER — Lawmakers on Thursday filed legislation focusing on feral cats, with the goal of encouraging feline spaying and neutering.

House Bill 178 establishes a “community cat program” to allow a primary caretaker to take feral cats to a veterinarian to be vaccinated against rabies — or to be sterilized.

The cats would be ear-tipped, or have a small portion of their left ear removed, to identify them.

Feral cats are not socialized to people and live on their own outside. They are usually too fearful to be handled or adopted.

They often live in a group of related cats , called a colony.

A caretaker who offers food, care and shelter to a wild cat would not be deemed an owner under the bill.

Low-income caretakers would be eligible to spay or neuter the cat through a state-sponsored program.

Animal shelters also would be required to keep track of the number of feral cats they release back into the wild.

Dr. Stacy Waters of Spay Neuter Clinic in Dover recently said the number of free-roaming cats in the area is large.

“We get about 150 cats a month,” Dr. Waters said. “I haven’t seen an increase, as the amount of cats we see every month is about the same, but I will say the cat population is pretty high in this area and that’s due (to there) not being a place for people to take them.”

Eleanor Ricchuiti, of Dover, is among those who have struggled with the feral cat problem in her Pearsons Corner Road neighborhood. She recently told The Delaware State News she has spent more $1,000 having cats spayed and neutered in an effort to reduce the population.

Not only has that strained her finances, the free-roaming cats also have damaged her heating ducts, invade her barn and have become increasingly aggressive, she said.

“When I attend community meetings, I hear about the issue of stray cats repeatedly,” Rep. Mike Mulrooney, D-New Castle, said in a statement. “I have family members who have been doing just what this bill will accomplish: herding stray cats and having them spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

“It’s healthier for them and helps control the pet population. Making community cat programs official in Delaware will help organize these efforts and put in place a common-sense program.”

The bill, which is in the House Health and Human Development Committee, is backed by the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare. Is has 16 co-sponsors.

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