As untamable animals that often carry diseases, feral cats have become a primary concern of Animal Control and human societies in northeast Missouri. Kirksville’s growing feral cat population is posing a problem to pets and other wildlife in the area.
What is a Feral Cat?
Feral cats live independently, without the help of an owner. Jason Luscier, Truman State biology professor, says feral cats are not the same as strays.
“A feral cat is one that has not only lost its tameness but [it] feeds itself and also is often times involved with large movement patterns,” Luscier says.
Cats born and raised in the wild often are unadoptable. Luscier says feral cats that resist adoption and transition to a domestic lifestyle often are put down to prevent the spread of the diseases they carry.
Feral Cats in Kirksville
The short gestation period and number of kittens in a single litter of cats cause the feral cat population to expand constantly, creating several generations of cats that live entirely in the wild.
“On average, I get about 10 calls a day concerning feral cats and about three dealing with other types of animals,” Animal Control officer Bob Allen says.
After working with the City of Kirksville Animal Control for seven years, Allen says cats in the area are the number one concern. When he receives a call concerning feral cats in the area, he reacts promptly.
“Feral cats are extremely dangerous and need to be handled in a safe and quick manner,” Allen says.
Many residents make the mistake of feeding these wild cats, which then causes the cats to settle near their houses and reproduce. Allen says he has encountered several instances of Kirksville residents being scared of exiting their homes because of the abundance of feral cats surrounding the building.
After Animal Control captures these cats, Allen says the next step is to bring them to the Adair County Humane Society.
“On a monthly basis, we probably take [in]…70 stray cats, and out of those 70, probably three quarters of them will be feral,” shelter manager Missy Decker says.
Decker says these cats usually are put down, mainly as a form of population control and because they are unadoptable. She says the shelter probably would house and rehabilitate feral cats if there was enough space.
Currently, Luscier is working with the Field of Dreams Rescue organization on implementing a research project known as the Trap–Neuter–Release/Return (TNR) program in Kirksville. Luscier says he aims to better understand the movement patterns of the cats after they have been sterilized.
Cat advocate groups argue that upon sterilization, cats’ movement patterns tend to decrease and they more or less stay put. Luscier says he is interested in studing the cats in the Kirksville area so he can provide information to the scientific community.
Luscier says feral cats can spread a variety of diseases very easily to other animals, and the local cats have impacted the area’s wildlife including birds and small mammals. In addition, he says the cats also affect human health.
“Recent studies suggest that human cases of rabies more commonly come from cats rather than dogs,” Lucsier says. “That’s just one example of a disease humans can contract.”
Luscier says cat owners can help prevent the impact of feral cats.
“One big thing that wildlife biologists’ support is keeping pet cats indoors,” Luscier says “That’s one big message that I would like to deliver here in Kirksville.”