Stray cat population becomes problematic for Arbutus residents

Arbutus resident Mary Deegan pets Gizmo, one of five kittens born in her backyard recently.
Arbutus resident Mary Deegan pets Gizmo, one of five kittens born in her backyard recently. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio)

Residents near downtown Arbutus are concerned about an increasing number of stray cats they say has grown out of control in their community.

"Over the 20 years that I've lived here, this is the first time that we've had this problem," said Judy Magaha, 67, who lives on Linden Avenue.


Her next door neighbor, Bet Morris, said one source of the problem is a cat named Raven that was abandoned after her former owners moved out of their Stevens Avenue rental home two years ago.

Since then, the animal has lived outside and been cared for by neighbors, Morris said.


Raven has had multiple litters of kittens, including three in her yard since the spring, Morris said.

Morris, 58, since it seemed as if her entire summer was spent taking care of the black cat and her kittens, feeding them, taking them to the veterinarian for shots and treatment of an injury.

Morris and her roommates, Mary Deegan and Shirley Purvis, have spent more than $2,000 taking care of the animals, they said.

"It's a huge amount of time," Morris said. "When you work and have responsibilities, it's overwhelming."


After asking around, she learned from neighbors that Raven had given birth to other litters throughout the neighborhood, which borders the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus.

"It's frustrating, it's draining and I'd like it to be resolved," Morris said. "I just feel so bad for these animals."

Morris said she had a plan to get Raven spayed but had to wait until the cat finished nursing her kittens.

But the plan didn't work — the cat got pregnant again while nursing, Morris said.

Dr. Mary Zink, veterinary director at the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown, said cats, "are extremely effective at reproduction."

"Your average cat can go into their first heat anywhere between four and 12 months of age," Zink said. "Once they go into their first heat, they will continue to ovulate."

A female cat can have two or three litters a year, Zink said.

Morris has found homes for four of the kittens from the previous litter. But Raven's most recent litter has five kittens now living in her yard.

Thursday, Morris and Deegan fed the kittens chicken in their backyard.

"We're trying to socialize them and get them used to people," Deegan said, as she fed a piece of chicken to a fluffy gray and black kitten she named Bear.

Male cats that roam the neighborhood that haven't been neutered exacerbate the problem, Morris said.

Magaha said she has a cat and a dog that are neutered. She believes pet owners should have their animals fixed.

"If they're going to have a pet, I think they need to be responsible," Magaha said. "I don't blame anyone except for the people who own the animals."

Baltimore County's one public animal shelter, in Baldwin, takes in about 2,800 stray cats each year, said Dr. Gregory William Branch, county director of health and human services.

"Clearly, we have an issue with stray cats," Branch said.

The county department of animal control department doesn't track the numbers of calls it receives regarding strays.

Between June and October 23, the time that the county began tracking such data, the county euthanized 215 feral cats, according to Monique Lyle, public information officer for the county department of health and human services.

Beyond being a nuisance, the unwanted animals are a public health concern, Branch said.

"It is definitely a public health issue," Branch said. "Stray cats can increase the possibility of the human population being exposed to rabies."

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that affects the central nervous system. It can be contracted through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Cats, dogs, raccoons, skunks and livestock can carry the disease if they are not vaccinated. Rabid animals may display unusual behavior such as frothing at the mouth, aggression or convulsions.

Baltimore County Animal Services will spay or neuter dogs for $65 and cats for $50. The cost includes: a license, rabies immunization and microchip, said county information. Qualified military veterans who live in the county can get the service for 50 percent of the normal cost.

Microchipping involves putting a small chip between the animal's shoulder blades that acts as a tracking device, should an animal become lost or stolen. The process costs $25.

All adult cats adopted from the county shelter must be spayed or neutered before being adopted, said Amanda Knittle, public information officer for the county department of health and human services.

"These kittens in my yard now — they're all capable of getting pregnant again," Morris said. "If people would be more responsible, it would help the situation."

For information about county spay and neuter services email spayneuter@baltimorecountymd.gov or call 410-887-7297 to schedule an appointment.

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