One Cat At a Time

To pet owners, getting their furry friends spayed or neutered is a cost they are happy to pay, but for Door County residents trying to control the feral cat population, the financial costs outweigh the benefits.

Liberty Grove resident Wendi Ray has paid to have five cats spayed and neutered over the past few years at a cost of $90 per animal. She has three live traps in Ellison Bay and monitors them because she wants to help control the feral cat population.

But while she wants to help, she said the cost is becoming too burdensome, and Door County needs a program to trap, neuter and release feral cats, eliminating the cost to people like her and solving the problem these animals pose not only to humans but also to other cats.

Door County Humane Society Director Carrie Counihan said feral cats often show aggressive behavior when approached by humans, even people who are trying to care for them.

Furthermore, since feral cats have no home or owner to care for them, they haven’t had proper vaccinations and often carry diseases.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia are two of the most common – and most contagious – diseases feral cats harbor, Veterinarian Carrie Franke said.

FIV is similar to the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus in humans, causing chronic immune problems for the cat as it ages. The virus is spread through biting or fighting. Feline Leukemia also impacts the immune system, preventing cats from fighting off infections. Unlike FIV, Feline Leukemia is spread through licking, so even young kittens can become infected.

The Northern Door Pet Clinic in Sister Bay used to have a program to sterilize feral cats, thanks to the generosity of a donor, but people stopped replenishing the fund.

Franke said the clinic still spays and neuters feral cats at a reduced rate, but people need to bring the cats into the clinic in a live trap. From there, Franke said the clinic tests for FIV and Feline Leukemia, and if the animals test positive for either, she will euthanize them.

“I’m afraid of sending them back out and infecting other cats,” she said.

The Door County Humane Society will arrange for cats to be spayed or neutered, Counihan said, but due to the aggressive nature of most feral cats, it is not an easy task.

Green Bay has several organizations, such as Alley Cat Allies and Cats Anonymous, that hold mass spay and neuter days where people can bring feral cats to be spayed or neutered by area veterinarians.

A program similar to that is needed in Door County, Counihan said, but resources on all fronts are lacking.

“Our vets just aren’t set up to be able to handle that type of program,” Counihan said. “Usually you need to have a huge clinic where cats can be held until they can be spayed or neutered, and a bunch of vets and people that in one single day can spay, neuter and re-release [the animals] in colonies.”

Egg Harbor Village President Nancy Fisher said feral cats are present in Egg Harbor’s downtown where they roam the streets in search of food and often find it with local business owners.

“We certainly know they’re there, and the individuals feeding them sometimes take up private collections to help them spay or neuter the cats, but the village does not have a program in place,” she said.

The Village of Egg Harbor, like many other Door County governments, calls dogcatcher Mark Richard to trap stray dogs in live traps, but the village does not have a program to control feral cats.

A trap-neuter-release program is something Ray hopes to see developed in the future, but she said it can only come to fruition through a county-wide effort.

“I want the collaboration between towns and vets and the community to help solve this problem, whether it’s someone that can help to trap or give a $5 donation to the program,” Ray said.

Until a program is in place, Door County residents like Ray will attempt to solve the problem through their own efforts, one cat at a time.