published Friday, March 22nd, 2013

South Pittsburg hopes to catch, 'fix' stray cats

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — When South Pittsburg got a new mayor and two new city commissioners late last year, it didn't take long for them to hear about problems with stray and feral cats.

"We've had calls for help, and we've had calls for complaints about destruction of property," Mayor Jane Dawkins said. "There have also been concerns that [the cats] have not been vaccinated. We do have an overpopulation of cats."

The city had been handling the issue "the old way," she said, by catching a few stray cats every once in a while and then euthanizing them, but the problem wasn't getting any better.

Last month, the City Commission was presented with a program called trap-neuter-release under which cats are captured, sterilized, vaccinated and returned to the areas where they were caught.

The board agreed to continue its moratorium on trapping and killing stray and feral cats "for a little while" so the city can move forward with the program.

South Pittsburg resident Kim Hobby lived in Conway, Ark., for about 20 years, and said she has seen the program succeed firsthand in her former town.

Bob Hookey, another South Pittsburg resident, said there is "always another side" to the issue.

"Even if these cats are neutered, it's not going to stop them from coming up on my porch, using the bathroom and walking all over my car," he said.

Dawkins said the plan probably won't help immediately with any damage the cats cause, but it will keep them from having up to three litters of kittens per year.

"If you capture the cats and euthanize them, it'll do that, too," Hookey said. "I'm very doubtful. I just don't think this will work at all."

Hookey said he fears the program will "invite other people" from outside the town to bring cats to South Pittsburg and release them.

Representatives from animal protection groups in Chattanooga have offered to provide traps and help with the South Pittsburg program.

McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center in Chattanooga has applied for a $5,000 grant on the city's behalf, Dawkins said, and $1,000 has been donated for the "first trial run" with the program.

Officials are not sure how many years it might take for the program to produce significant results in South Pittsburg, but Dawkins said her research has her convinced that it's worth a try.

"We're just trying to get back to that good balance -- nature's balance," she said. "It's going to be a volunteer effort, and we're going to need some folks to help."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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