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Monday, February 18, 2008

Feral cats fall prey to development

HARES CORNER, Del. -- Animal advocates appealed on Sunday for help finding outdoor homes for more than 30 longtime stray or feral cats that are losing a wooded area they live in to development.

"What we need is five or six farmers to take four or five each," Jane Pierantozzi of the nonprofit Faithful Friends said as she and two volunteers fed the cats Sunday near Hares Corner.

"We have five at the shelter now," Pierantozzi said. All must be out of the area in two weeks, she said, because "they're starting to bulldoze."

Farmers who take the cats will not be charged a fee, Pierantozzi said. Faithful Friends also will take any kittens or adoptable cats the farmers want placed, lend transition cages and provide help from its pet food bank if requested, she said.

The adult cats have been allowed to live for many years on a lot that adjoins the Lone Star restaurant on Du Pont Highway just south of Hares Corner, Pierantozzi said. A few anonymous animal lovers have fed and cared for them, she said.

"Almost all of them are spayed or neutered," Pierantozzi said, adding their ears were notched -- a measure widely used to identify homeless cats that have been trapped, sterilized and released.

The five friendliest cats were removed last week to Faithful Friends' no-kill shelter off Maryland Avenue in the Germay Industrial Plaza, where they are available now for farm placement, she said.

There is no count of cats living outdoors in Delaware, but advocates say about 25,000 pets become homeless each year and more than 15,000 are destroyed in shelters.

Trapping and moving the rest from next to the Lone Star will be a task for Pierantozzi and helpers Michael and Kathy Gallagher, who are no strangers to cat traps.

They became independent cat rescuers many years ago, tending a colony in woods behind Fox Run Shopping Center in Bear, where they have a jewelry shop. When the colony's area was cleared for development, the Gallaghers placed many of the cats and moved the rest to what became the state's first known relocated feral cat colony, which they and others sponsored at the Delaware Humane Association in Wilmington.

As the Gallaghers and Pierantozzi put out food in the woods Sunday and checked on the cats, a few approached cautiously but most kept a distance. One blended into the ground cover of leaves, visible only by the twitch of a tail.

Michael Gallagher noticed how well-nourished and healthy the cats look, how thick their coats are from living outdoors.

"They really are beautiful," Kathy Gallagher said. And while keeping them together would be ideal, she said she knows "nobody could take 35 feral cats."

Unfortunately, Pierantozzi said, such colonies "are everywhere."

Typically, she said, the cats live in groups near businesses and community or apartment complex trash areas to get food.

"The best solution is to let them live where they are unless something like this happens," she said. "We don't normally move cats, but this is a situation with no options."

The closure of the NVF plant in Yorklyn recently prompted a rescue project on a similar scale, she said.

Over time, she said, cats from Yorklyn and the Lone Star area should grow friendly with the farmers who adopt them, but none are comfortable enough with people for indoor life with a family.

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