Feral felines roam Fruita
City to hold public meeting to discuss public-health issue
As many as five times a week, Carrie Benham responds to a problem related to feral cats in Fruita.
Sometimes it’s a resident complaining that cats have killed the birds in her yard, left piles of poop on the lawn, or are digging up flowerbeds.
Other times, citizens report that their neighbors are feeding feral cats, harboring them and increasing their populations. The problem has intensified to the point where some residents have taken matters into their own hands, illegally trapping cats that are feral or owned pets and relocating them outside town.
As the Fruita Police Department’s animal control officer, she’s noticed an increase in problems related to feral cats since she started the job last year.
It’s a complicated issue, and that’s why Benham has organized a public meeting to discuss how to deal with Fruita’s feral cat problem, on Saturday, Oct. 22. The meeting will bring together nonprofit groups that help with trapping, neutering and releasing animals as well as others that can shelter cats, and will clear up the misconceptions about what residents can legally do to deal with feral cats and develop a community plan to remedy the problem.
It’s an emotionally charged issue — with some folks arguing that feeding the population of strays only exacerbates the problem, and others demanding to round up the cats and get rid of them somehow. While these feral cats aren’t pets, they aren’t wildlife, either, and they survive by living in the shadow of humans who don’t appreciate the problems that come with them.
Ultimately, Benham said the feral cats have created a public-health issue that needs to be dealt with, and she estimates that at least 200 feral cats are living in the city limits.
“Often, the animals are sick, hurt or injured,” she said. “They’re not healthy and they’re unvaccinated.”
The number of feral cats has created not only a nuisance, but also concerns about the welfare of residents’ pets. Cats are mobile creatures, and can’t be contained with fences. Fruita doesn’t have a leash law for cats, and though residents can legally detain animals trespassing on their property, the real issue is what can be done once an animal is caught.
“The biggest issue is once you trap a feral cat, what do you do with it?” Benham said. “People want me to just come out and collect the animals and make them disappear and I can’t do that.”
That’s exactly what Fruita resident Erin Kimble wishes would happen. She has lived on Aspen Avenue for 17 years, and when she moved in, a neighbor told her he had trapped more than 100 cats over the years. It’s a problem that has been around a long time and doesn’t look like it will be fixed overnight, she said, noting that she attributes some of the problem to a neighbor who is feeding the cats.
“There’s always a new litter of kittens,” she said. Her family is used to the yowling sounds of catfights in the middle of the night and the turds scattered in the yard.
“My front doorstep smells like a litter box,” she said. “The cats spray all around our house.” Her only defense to this point has been to run the sprinklers constantly in the summer and keep the yard as wet as possible, to discourage the cats who don’t like the water.
“It has become such an aggravation for us,” Kimble said, noting that she had a pet cat she suspects was poisoned accidentally by a neighbor attempting to kill feral cats.
Some parts of the city clearly have a resident feral cat population, including where Kimble lives. On a drive through the Country Village Mobile Home Park at 825 E. Ottley Ave. on Tuesday morning, at least a dozen cats wandered along the road, lazed in the sun or perched on trash cans, knocking them over and foraging for food. Others fled when they saw people, darting between gaps in the skirting at the foot of the trailers. This is just one of probably ten places in town with concentrations of feral cats, Benham said.
In the past year, cats have shown up in “weird places,” Benham said, an indication that some residents have trapped cats and dumped them far from town. There have been cases where pet cats have been trapped, presumed to be feral, and were dumped, Benham said, which is illegal.
The feral cat forum will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 22 at the Fruita Recreation Center, 324 N. Coulson St. Representatives from the Fruita Police Department, local shelters and cat advocacy groups will be on hand to answer questions and help formulate a plan for dealing with the feral cat population. Benham encourages anyone concerned about the feral cat issue to attend.
“I think everyone will come away having learned something,” Benham said.