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FERAL CAT DAY FOCUSING ON HOMELESS FELINES

Oct. 15, 2003 – While many people who work with feral cats think every day should be National Feral Cat Day, animal activists across the country — Virgin Islanders among them — are striving particularly to focus attention on the homeless animals' plight on Thursday.
Nobody knows how many feral cats live in the Virgin Islands.
"The cat population is still outrageous," Lisa Walker, acting executive director of the Humane Society of St. Thomas, said.
The main problem is the fact that cats reproduce at a staggering rate. Although many responsible people have their household cats spayed or neutered, others do not. Those cats contribute to the problem by mating with feral cats. And of course, those that live in the wild continue to reproduce at a prodigious rate.
"One un-neutered cat can produce 400,000 offspring in seven years," Johanna Chawziuk, director at the Animal Care Center on St. John, said.
Every Wednesday is free spay and neuter day at the Animal Care Center for people who want to bring in feral cats — not their household pets — to be fixed.
The Humane Society of St. Thomas program costs $35 for spaying or neutering a cat. The St. Croix Animal Shelter program charges $3 for spaying and $20 for neutering.
Chawziuk figures only about 20 to 30 percent of the feral cats on St. John have been spayed or neutered.
Many of the islands' feral cats were once pets. While some ran away, others were abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves. While the abandoned cat may be docile, successive generations may not be. "It depends on how many time the offspring have reproduced," Chawziuk said.
Across the territory, volunteers work hard to care for feral cats. They set up feeding stations, many of them at public trash bins where cats congregate to forage for food. These feral cats as well as those trapped elsewhere are checked for diseases and then spayed or neutered. Those with disease are euthanized to prevent them from spreading the disease and because it's difficult to find them homes.
Some of the spayed and neutered cats are adopted, but others are returned to the feeding stations to live out their lives.
On St. Croix, Diane Chandler cares for the cats at the Cotton Valley trash bin. She has taken the cats there to the vet to be spayed or neutered and now feeds them every day.
However, Chandler, like people across the territory who care for feral animals, has horror stories to tell. After about 40 cats at the trash bin had been spayed or neutered two years ago, they all disappeared.
And, after caring for a feral Siamese cat, she found the cat decapitated, apparently by someone who didn't like cats. "That's mean, sick and cruel," she said.
On St. John, three times in one week someone tore down a feeding station located at Adrian on Centerline Road. The feeding station had been there for years until this recent development. Chawziuk said she thinks the culprit was a neighbor who breeds pit bulls.
To make sure the eight or so cats accustomed to feeding at the station do not starve, volunteers now put down dishes of food and wait while the cats eat.
Volunteers and the shelters on all three islands often are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cats that show up on their doorsteps. Walker said people bring in boxes of sick cats and think they're making a donation.
However, she said, it's better to take unwanted kittens to a shelter than to dump them at feeding stations.
If you'd like to volunteer to improve the lives of feral cats, call the Humane Society at 775-0599, the St. Croix Animal Shelter at 778-1650 or the Animal Care Center at 774-1625.

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