SACO, Maine — The city of Saco is unsure of its authority to intervene after homeowners complained about a cat colony in the village of Camp Ellis.
The Bourque family, who owns homes at 15 and 17 Bay Ave. that are rented during the summer, have complained to the city that cats being fed by Colin and Lucinda Wormwood, who own a restaurant and live on the street, are littering the lawns of their properties with feces. The Bourque family has asked the city to capture the cats and remove them.
City attorney Tim Murphy, in court documents, said state law requires the city to control dogs running at large and could be read to suggest there is no authority to require the city to control cats running at large.
Murphy describes the cats as “neither truly feral nor truly domesticated.”
“They are wild by nature, but will respond to humans by repetitious feeding as done by the Wormwoods,” said Murphy.
The city is unsure if it has the authority to intervene and has asked the court for a declaratory judgment as to whether it may trap the cats and take them to a shelter or euthanize them if a shelter refuses to take them, according to Code Enforcement Officer Dick Lambert.
The court has asked all parties to meet at a mediation session on Aug. 21.
Mayor Mark Johnston said the city will do as the court tells it to, but he believes wild cats, if they are becoming an issue with a neighbor, need to be controlled.
“These cats have no citizenship in Saco” and can be removed and adopted by anyone who wants to, he said.
The Bourques, through court documents prepared by their attorney, Peter Clifford, allege their property has decreased in value and has become unrentable, and that the cat feces on the property causes serious health risks. They said the Wormwoods have “gathered and fed dozens of stray cats,” creating a nuisance on or near the Bourque properties.
Mark Bourque, a power of attorney of David Bourque, who owns a home at 17 Bay Ave., is suing the Wormwoods over the same issue in a separate suit.
Eleanor Saboski, a volunteer with Friends of Feral Felines, said the organization was called to start a trap/neuter/release program two years ago. She said volunteers worked with five different local veterinary clinics and 61 cats were spayed or neutered, vaccinated and tested for disease, and found to be healthy. She said all the kittens and some of the cats were adopted, and 24 were released back. Saboski said she makes regular stops to visit the cats, and believes that there are about 11 there today.
She said there’s been a long history of cats in Camp Ellis, and they have controlled the rat population.
Dr. Kipp Temm, with the York County Animal Hospital, said he’s worked with the cats for about 10 years. Over this time, 200 kittens have been adopted out, he said. The Wormwoods have been paying to get the kittens spayed, neutered and vaccinated, and the numbers of cats have decreased over the years because of these efforts.
He said the cats have been tested for leukemia and feline AIDS, and there haven’t been any cases. He said if there were any cats with diseases, he wouldn’t put them back so the other cats would not be at risk.
Temm said in summer communities like Camp Ellis, there is always an issue of cats being left behind after summer residents leave. Temm said that according to state law, cats are allowed to roam.
He said cat fecal matter isn’t really a health risk unless someone picks up the feces with bare hands and doesn’t wash them later. He said the biggest health issue with cats is rabies, and these cats have been vaccinated.
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