Smithfield Herald

County’s feral cat population is booming

This feral cat at the Johnston County Animal Shelter is one of hundreds that is caught each month.
This feral cat at the Johnston County Animal Shelter is one of hundreds that is caught each month.

Johnston County’s feral cat population is at an all-time high, and a group of veterinarians and animal-welfare advocates is meeting this month to discuss how to address the problem.

“It’s the worst year we’ve had,” said Ernie Wilkinson, director of Johnston County Animal Services.

In June and July, the county shelter took in 700 feral cats, euthanizing all but 120 of them. To animal lovers, those numbers are tragic; to Johnston County taxpayers, they’re a financial burden. The cost of putting down a cat is $7 to $9 per cat, so those June and July euthanizations cost taxpayers between $4,060 and $5,220.

The Johnston County Animal Protection League has organized a meeting to start a discussion on how to reduce the feral cat population. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Morning Glory Inn in Clayton.

Tammy Godusi, a volunteer with the Johnston County Animal Protection League, is among the meeting’s organizers. “We’re hoping to get the discussion started about having a trap-neuter-release program here in some form, as Wake County has with Operation Catnip,” Godusi said.

Operation Catnip, run by volunteers, traps feral cats. Then once a month, veterinarians donate their time to neuter the cats, which are then released. The goal is to prevent feral cats from breeding.

“It’s the only way we’re going to solve the problem,” Godusi said.

At the clinics, cats also receive a rabies shot.

100,000 feral cats

Godusi has been documenting Johnston County’s feral cat population for the past six months.

“There are over 100,000 feral cats in this county alone,” she said.

In all, Godusi has documented 15 colonies in Johnston County. An average colony has 15 to 20 cats; some have as many as 50.

Godusi has found six colonies in Clayton and five in Smithfield, and she is certain the county has many more colonies she hasn’t discovered yet.

In Clayton and the Cleveland community, Godusi has spotted colonies behind Matthew Motors, near Burger King on N.C. 42, behind Charlie’s BBQ & Grille on Cleveland Road, in woods near Glen Laurel and behind the Clubhouse Restaurant on N.C. 42. The colony behind the Clubhouse has around 50 cats, she said.

Some colonies have a guardian angel – a volunteer like Kathy Karamanian, who has been taking care of a colony for the past five years.

“To me, they are sweet angels, and it’s through no fault of their own these animals got abandoned out there,” Karamanian.

Her colony is in a field near Dairy Queen on N.C. 42 in the Cleveland community.

“It was a cold December morning, and I was driving away from the ATM machine, and I saw all these kittens in that field,” Karamanian recalled. “It was below zero, and all I could think was they don’t have any food; they don’t have any water.”

Karamanian had volunteered at a shelter in Cary and asked the president there for advice. The president told her how to set up food and water.

“I’m an animal person, so obviously I have a soft spot for them,” Karamanian said.

“They do become almost like pets to you,” she added.

Every day after work, Karamanian heads out to the field, taking water and wet food for the cats. “They’re there waiting for me,” she said.

Two years ago, Karamanian spent her own money to have the colony’s cats trapped, neutered and released. That cost her $30 to $50 a cat.

Karamanian’s colony started with about 50 cats and is under 30 now because some have died naturally. One aim of trap-neuter-release programs to have have an existing colony live in peace and harmony until the population dies out naturally.

“Getting them sterilized is key,” Karamanian said.

Public health concern

Wilkinson, the director of Animal Services, said feral cats pose a public health risk.

“My concern is you can stop the population cycle, but you don’t do anything for rabies after the first shot because it only lasts for a year, and you have no way to identify which ones don’t have a rabies shot,” he said.

And not all feral cats are friendly, Wilkinson said. “These animals will eat you alive, especially after they’re trapped, because it escalates their anxiety,” he said.

Wilkinson said he receives multiple calls daily from Johnston residents who have spotted feral cats hanging out near restaurants and convenience stores. Other people call to complain that feral cats are eating their pet’s food.

Wilkinson supports trap-neuter-release, or TNR, but said it would need to be done on a large scale to stem the population boom.

“If you TNR 20 cats a month, where does that stack up with the 350 ferals we have coming in each month?” he asked.

“I’m glad they’re having this meeting because it’s a real problem,” Wilkinson said. “I hope at the end of the day we will be able to control these animal populations.”

To attend the meeting, call Godusi at 919-395-6181.