“Verm cats” may be the affectionate name given to feral strays that wander Vermillion, but this year, the city has its priorities set on managing the hordes that could pose a health risk to residents.
John Prescott, Vermillion city manager, said how feeding the animals is not a good idea because it fosters their ability to survive.
“We did a project with Heartland Humane Society and Cedar County Veterinary Clinic this last six to nine months, and received a grant to spade and neuter 25 cats as a goal to reduce the population,” Prescott said.
The cat is the main domestic animal linked to human cases of rabies exposure in the last 30 years, according to research released by the federal Center of Disease Control and Prevention Aug. 18.
The CDC report also estimates 16 percent of people in the United States who contract rabies and have to undergo treatment are because of cats.
Courtney Hemme, junior, works at the local Domino’s Pizza, which serves as a hot spot for strays. She said her manager puts out soft and hard food for the cats sitting by the back door.
“When (my manager) sees them back there, he says ‘The beggars are here. Better go feed them,’” Hemme said.
But Prescott and the city are not content with providing food for the animals, but instead managing the feral creatures and their offspring. The city has been working with the Heartland Humane Society to take care of the strays.
The plan is to trap the cats, spade or neuter them and release the animals back into the wild, said Kerry Schmidt, director of Human Heartland Society.
“Felines are territorial and have claimed spots for feeding. If the territorial ones are fixed, it would not allow the feral cats to feed, therefore the feral breed would die out,” Schmidt said.
Funding for the feral cat catch and release was a grant limited to 25 cats. The issue of rabies has not been addressed in Vermillion, but the effort to reduce populations is proactive.
Vermillion is mirroring its actions after a program that began in Omaha, Neb. about a year and a half ago. Schmidt said the results will show in time.
“Of the cats that they collected, only one of all the cats had a health concern, but it was neither rabies or leukemia,” Prescott said.
The Cedar County Veterinary Services contribute to working with the city’s plan to prevent the cats from reproducing, and the Yankton Police Department has a sector for animal control that assists with capture and release efforts.
Euthanasia was also an option to deal with the animals, but according Cedar County Veterinary Services’ website, this act “creates a vacuum effect.” If cats are simply removed from Vermillion, new cats will fill in the void and continue to breed and reproduce, elevating the number of strays.
To assist the city with the feral cat colonies in Vermillion, contact the Vermillion Heartland Humane Society at (605) 658-1658.