City removes cat shelters in South Park, citing health and safety concerns
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The city of Copperas Cove recently issued a press release detailing concerns associated with the feral cat colony located in South Park, leading some citizens to voice concerns over the possibility of the approximately 30 cats inhabiting the park being rounded up and euthanized.
The city has no plans to round up the cats or euthanize them, according to Kevin Keller, the city’s public information officer.
The action the city has taken entailed removing any shelters placed in the wooded areas along the 1.5-mile-long walking trail around the park and any food containers left behind. Since February 2018, when city staff first looked over the park after the implementation of Phase I of Parks and Recreation Improvements, they said they have removed an estimated 70 plus shelters that citizens left behind for the cats to use during the winter months as well as the food and water trays. There currently is no city ordinance against feeding feral or stray cats but current city ordinances do not allow the shelters in the park because personal property is not allowed to be left or stored on city property or in a park.
They also create what is considered “an unhealthy/hazardous health environment and are not visually appealing,” according to the press release.
Some of the concerns and health related issues that the city has associated with the feral cat colony include a rabies threat from the cats preying on natural animals and contracting rabies; zoonotic diseases which include toxoplasmosis that could be found in any urine or feces in the areas where humans walk, run, play and partake in recreation such as on the walking trail, multi-purpose fields, playground and mulch areas; threats to native birds and other animals in the area; creation of food dependency of other animals in the area; injury to citizens or their dogs directly or indirectly by being bitten, scratched or having a dog chase a cat; and the unsanitary conditions from shelters and food/water trays left behind.
Several citizens expressed concern over the possibility of the cats being euthanized, including Ann Branaugh-Phipps who contacted the Leader-Press. She shared in an email to the Leader-Press how the cats bring joy to her 9-year-old son, who has autism, during their daily visits to the park.
“Many of the cats (whom he had named) know him and surround him as he gives them treats,” Phipps wrote. “He has even given one a collar with an engraved tag that reads ‘Love, Robert.’”
Phipps and her son aren’t the only ones who care deeply about the cats. Ed Oaks and Wanda Moore are residents of the neighborhood that surrounds the walking trail and are part of a collaborative effort of citizens dedicated to the welfare of the cats in the park.
Oaks shared that there were as many as 36 cats at one point but that the group recently trapped four of them and took them to Kathy’s Kitties to be adopted out and have adopted out others previously.
Moore estimated that there were now less than 30 cats. Oaks and Moore each have paid out of their own pockets for veterinarian care for the cats. Moore has personally taken all but one of the 30 plus cats to the Austin Humane Society to be spayed or neutered and have their ears tipped as is customary for a Trap, Neuter, Release cat.
Often, the cats had already been spayed or neutered, leading Moore to believe they had been owned by someone at some point, she said. The one cat that she can’t catch is a male and one that she and her group are continuing to work on to catch.
When the city went through and took down all of the shelters, Oaks said he was disappointed and upset that they chose to do so in the middle of winter.
“The way they did that is just animal cruelty in my book, right in the middle of the cold weather,” Oaks said.
Moore said that while she disagreed with the leaving of the shelters at first due to the attention that they would bring, she did put a tarp over the shelter and left blankets inside them for the cats to use.
Since the shelters have been taken down, Oaks said he has gone out and created some makeshift ones using sticks and leaves that are already on the ground.
Moore was told that if people stopped feeding the cats, they would leave the park, she said. However, if they leave the park, they will end up in the neighborhoods where animal control will be called, she added.
“Right now, they’re staying in the park,” Moore said. “They’re not bothering anybody.”
Moore questioned the sudden concern over the cats at South Park but wanted to clarify that the cats are not feral.
“Feral cats are untouchable,” she said. “You can hand pet these cats, once you get to know them.”
Oaks also shared that he has seen kids in the park who ask him if he is “the cat whisperer”. He knows each cat by name and calls them over for the kids to pet. He agreed with Moore that the cats are not feral.
“This cat whisperer would like for Copperas Cove to know the truth about these cats,” Oaks said. “They are dumped domesticated cats that need a home.”
Moore also said concerns over the unsanitary conditions are not necessary because she walks through the park every day and picks up trash, making sure that no cans or anything are left behind. If there is a sick cat, the group of concerned citizens also takes care of that, taking the cat into the vet for care. In some cases, they’ve ended up putting the really sick cats to sleep, she said.
“The city’s not having any expense at this point,” Moore said regarding the care of the cats.
Moore said she was concerned about people who might want to harm the cats and wanted to work with the city in some way.
“We’re just a group of people that do this out of our heart, love for cats and animals,” Moore said. “I know that we’re doing a good thing for the city whether the city wants to acknowledge that or not.”