VEAZIE, Maine — Reports of the imminent demise of a clowder of cats in Veazie are greatly exaggerated, according to town officials.
For about two years, residents of Hobson Avenue in Veazie have complained about a group of around 30 free-roaming and feral cats that live in the area, according to Veazie police Chief Mark Leonard. Some of those cats have come to roost underneath residences on the street.
Free-roaming cats are felines that were once household pets but now run wild. Feral cats have never been owned by a human and can be skittish or aggressive toward people.
The town received another complaint on July 5 from a resident who said two litters of kittens had been born to the cat colony, adding as many as 16 new feral cats to the mix.
Residents of the trailers on Hobson Avenue told town officials that cats were tearing up and scratching the exteriors of their homes, getting underneath the trailers and damaging wiring.
Joseph Murphy, animal control officer for Veazie and eight other communities, was asked to begin the process of removing the cats from the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, someone from a group called Forgotten Felines posted a photo of a cat on Facebook with a caption that said the animal was part of a “colony in Veazie that the police and [animal control officer] are going to start trapping and killing today.”
Forgotten Felines is a nonprofit organization that attempts to find homes for feral and free-roaming cats.
Another post on the group’s page stated that at least 25 Hobson Avenue cats would be put down starting Tuesday night.
Tuesday night, those involved in the trapping of the animals said those claims aren’t true.
Murphy began catching cats on the street Tuesday evening after telling residents during the course of the week that they should put collars on their house cats so he could avoid taking the wrong animals.
After putting cat food into the first humane trap he set that evening and placing it at the end of a culvert that ran under the street, Murphy went to the other end of the culvert and clapped his hands. Seconds later, an orange kitten ran into the trap.
Murphy put the trap on the tailgate of his truck, opened a pet crate and tried to coax the trembling kitten, which likely had never had close human contact, into the crate he would use to take the animal to the Bangor Humane Society.
“Come to the other end, come to the other end,” Murphy urged as he stuck a finger inside the cage and stroked the kitten’s fur in an attempt to calm it. “Oh yeah, this one can be saved.”
Murphy said it will probably take him at least two weeks to catch all the cats because he has two or three traps he can set at a time.
He will then take them to the Bangor Humane Society, where staff will assess the cats to see if they’re docile enough to be adopted.
Stacey Coventry, manager of public relations for the Bangor Humane Society, said the organization only euthanizes animals if they’re either too unhealthy or too aggressive to be adopted or put into a foster home.
“If we can save a life we will,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
The humane society is short on space for cats, however, and rumors abounded throughout the day Tuesday that only the kittens and least feral cats would be saved because they adapt more easily to human interaction.
Coventry said frequent adoptions from the humane society and similar organizations lessen the likelihood that any animal will have to be put down because of lack of space to work with the animal.
Concerned residents who heard about the cat colony roundup worried that the more aggressive cats might be euthanized.
However, by Tuesday night, Debbie Studley, a receptionist at Veazie Veterinary Clinic who built a feeding shelter for the cats in the area, said groups stepped up throughout the day and most, if not all, of the cats should be saved.
“Apparently, there have been a lot of rumors around about this,” Studley said.
Studley built a shelter stocked with food and water for the 30-40 cats in an attempt to keep them healthy until Forgotten Felines or another group could step in to collect the cats and find homes for them.
Since rumors started circulating Tuesday, Forgotten Felines and at least three other groups in the state told Studley and Murphy that they would find foster homes and permanent homes for the cats, possibly even the more feral and aggressive ones.
“There are people who know how to handle these kinds of animals,” Studley said. “We can save the vast majority of these cats.”
Coventry and Murphy said humans need to do their part to ensure pet populations stay in check and large feral colonies don’t develop. The biggest step pet owners can take, Murphy and Coventry said, is to spay and neuter their animals.
“This is the fault of people, not the fault of cats,” Murphy said.
As for the orange kitten Murphy caught Tuesday evening, he delivered it to the humane society soon after. The kitten warmed up to people quickly.
“We’re handling it with our bare hands now,” Murphy said, adding that he expected the cat would quickly woo a new owner.