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Local group builds shelters for feral cat colony

Most people have noticed the cats that always seem to be lurking about at the Hubbard County Transfer Station, which was the case with Tricia Hase, who is a veterinary assistant at The Ark Animal Hospital in Park Rapids.

Hase posted a photo of the cats on a particularly cold day. The picture got the attention of Heather Samuelson from Samuelson Laney Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, Inc., who suggested making shelters for the colony of feral cats.

"I said, 'I know just the team to ask,'" Hase explained "I went to work Monday morning and asked, 'Who wants in on this?' and everybody agreed to help out."

The team then began making a list of supplies they would need. Dr. Megan Larson from The Ark Animal Hospital contacted Park Rapids Building Supply. They donated the foam insulation for the project. Walmart donated a $125 gift certificate for the purchase of the remainder of supplies.

Last week, the group gathered at Samuelson Laney to utilize their heated shop while assembling the cat shelters.

Using plastic totes, they cut a circular door from one side of the tote, lined the box with foam insulation and carpet, then added straw to each box for extra warmth.

The shelters were then placed in an inconspicuous place at the transfer station to keep the cats out of traffic.

According to Dr. Larson, there are business owners as well as community members who do not want the cats coming around their establishments. Building shelters is somewhat of a solution by eliminating the need for the animals to seek shelter from the elements.

The six cats, which have all been spayed and neutered as well as vaccinated, began using the shelters immediately.

According to Dr. Larson, those involved attempted to trap the cats to see if they could be socialized and prepared for adoption.

"This colony of cats is too feral to be comfortable in a home. They would be considered unadoptable at a shelter. We would love to rehome them, but we can't," Dr. Larson said. "They would be unfriendly. They learned to live in the wild and that's what they know. So we just wanted to maintain this colony without letting it grow."

Janelle Pedersen, who works at the transfer station, keeps an eye on the cats.

The Headwaters Animal Shelter (HAS) often receives donated food. Rochelle Hamp from HAS works with Pedersen to supply her with food to feed the colony of cats.

"It's helpful for them to have some of them around," Hase explained, adding Pederson had commented that the cats keep the mouse population down at the transfer station.

With feral cat colonies, veterinarians will tip the cat's ear after it has been spayed or neutered to be able to distinguish them between the ones that haven't.

"If you don't spay or neuter a cat, it can have two or three litters each year and a litter can be six to seven kittens and kittens can get pregnant at six months of age," Dr. Larson explained. "So you can see how a small number of cats could grow into a terrible abundance of cats where we may have to start euthanizing because they could spread diseases. But, if we manage them, we can keep the chance of disease down and they do their part to help with the mice and rodents."

According to Dr. Larson, there are a lot of feral cats by the Park Rapids fairgrounds as well.

The group hopes to bring awareness to the community by supporting a trap-and-release program for feral cat colonies in order to at least give the cats their first round of vaccinations and to spay or neuter them.

"They can call us or the animal shelter and we could get something going. They have live traps and they are more than willing to help," Dr. Larson said about individuals seeking help with stray cats.

Cats that are brought in are also checked for diseases that could spread throughout colonies or, in some cases, spread to people's pets. Dr. Larson said controlling cat populations is necessary for public health reasons.

"There are a lot of resources out there. We have stray cat packages that are a very minimal cost. It's very affordable to give the vaccines and spay and neuter and then go ahead and release them," she said. "We want to help those people who want to help the community."

For more information on feral cat colonies, the Headwaters Animal Shelter can be reached at 237-7100 or The Ark Animal Hospital at 732-3119.

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