Stray cats targeted rabies hazard feared


Westminster city government and the county Humane Society will try to trap and euthanize an estimated 20 to 40 wild, homeless cats around Pennsylvania Avenue and Winter's Street.

Several people have told officials they have been bitten or scratched by wild cats in the area in the past 12 months, which could expose them to rabies.

"Any time you have stray cats and there's a question about vaccinations, you always have a rabies hazard," said Charles L. Zeleski, assistant director of environmental health for the county health department.

Mr. Zeleski said he did not know whether victims of bites received rabies preventive shots.

Animal control workers plan to set humane traps in the yards of Pennsylvania Avenue and West Main Street residents May 1-5.

Cats deemed to be wild, sick or seriously injured will be euthanized immediately at the Humane Society shelter.

Society officials said they will keep cats that appear to be domesticated for three days to give owners a chance to reclaim trapped pet cats.

Neighbors are reluctant to speak publicly, but some privately trace the proliferation of wild cats to apparently unsterilized cats kept by the owners of Albert's Hardware, 12 Pennsylvania Ave.

A sign at the hardware store directs customers to enter through the adjacent gun shop.

A woman who identified herself as the owner but refused to give her name said she has six pet cats. She refused any other comment.

Westminster Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard confirmed that the city's code enforcement office notified the hardware store owners recently to remove trash from their back yard, which faces Winter's Alley.

He said the action was taken because the cats were ripping plastic bags of trash stacked in the yard.

Some of the cats apparently are killing and eating kittens, Mr. Beyard said.

People have reported carcasses and small cats' heads in the area," he said.

Mr. Beyard said no incident prompted the joint effort. He said it was spurred by the increasing population of wild cats over the past year.

A female cat reaches sexual maturity at 6 months and can have two litters a year, usually of three to eight kittens each, officials said.

Nicky Ratliff, executive director of the county Humane Society, said the wild cats she has seen in Winter's Street and Pennsylvania Avenue appear scrawny and she is sure they are infected with tapeworms and other parasites.

People who have cats should assume responsibility for caring for them, she said. "They deserve better than that."

Ms. Ratliff said the traps used are wire cages baited with food. When the animal walks in to get the food, a door closes behind it.

Pennsylvania Avenue business owner Edward J. Gossett Jr. expressed sadness that some cats have to be killed rather than placed as pets.

"I'm sure there might be people out there who'd love to have a free cat," he said.

Ms. Ratliff said the Humane Society shelter took in 2,423 cats last year.

"In a situation like this, everyone suddenly becomes aware of the plight of stray cats," she said. "I wish they'd be as aware of the 2,000 domestic cats I have to try to find homes for each year."

City officials are asking neighborhood residents to keep their pet cats inside during the trapping week.

Ms. Ratliff said that if animal control workers have any doubt about whether a cat is someone's pet, they will keep it at the shelter and owners will be able to claim the cat.

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