Thursday, June 04, 2020


The perennial cat issue has come around again. The headline in the local newspaper is “Valier Town Council is seeking input from residents on feral cat concerns.”  The “feral” term is a little misleading since what is really wanted by some is a law confining all owned cats.
Here’s a summary of what’s presented.  It’s based on the idea of catching, neutering, and returning feral cats, an approach that has a lot of popularity but is rather discredited at present.
  • The Town of Valier has nowhere to “house” the trapped animals and no provision for monitoring and cleaning it. 
  • Who will be responsible for placing and monitoring traps, then taking the animals to the vet?
  • Who will monitor the 24 hours of recovery for males. (females need longer time)
  • How will pets be identified and returned to owners?
  • If a cat is designated for euthanasia, who will do it? The drugs used by shelters are injected and require special training.  The drugs themselves attract crime.
  • All these issues include costs in a time when money is tight.
  • There is no consideration here for the state laws about animals, primarily cruelty charges and animal hoarding.
  • The problem of cats using flower beds as litter boxes is not solved by neutering.  Neither does this strategy address the cat epidemics here nor the practice of using poison to control weeds, pigeons, and cats.
  • The problem of people who feed feral cat colonies is not addressed.  These are sometimes lonely, isolated, ailing, elderly. 
  • The article suggests that there’s no reason to pass a law that can’t be enforced.  Who by and how would this law be enforced.  Valier has a history of passing laws difficult to enforce: tall grass, derelict cars, etc. Some laws offer an opportunity to hurt enemies by killing their cats. 
  • There are constant reports of people from other towns solving their cat overpopulations by dropping off the animals in Valier where they imagine little old ladies will adopt them.

I have too many cats.  As soon as the pandemic lockdown and caution permits, I’ll take some of them to the vet to be euthanized.  It costs $50 per cat and the drive to Cut Bank costs about $10.  I’ll get two females spayed, which costs more.  I don’t have to “catch” them as they are from here and mostly stay on this property.  My income is very low, but the government emergency check might make it more feasible.  I’m eighty and diabetic, so the possibility of catching Covid-19 might be a death sentence.  That makes me reluctant to travel.

My usual practice is to drown kittens as soon as they are born, a country method.  I failed in the year after my shoulder was dislocated and I had a bad ear infection that affected my balance. There has never been a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Valier in the last twenty years.  Normally there is a one-time rabies shot clinic, mostly for dogs.  There is no offer of low cost virus shots for cats though most cats born here soon have infected eyes, which means they can’t be adopted.  I have not seen the statistics on the effectiveness of shots.  Four viruses that affect cats are corona viruses, which is a family of dozens of viruses, mostly not affecting humans.

For a while a humane activist was working in Conrad, but she has moved on.  The Pondera County sheriff has no provision for cats.  They will shelter dogs.

For five years in the Seventies I was an animal control officer in Portland, OR, and had to clean dozens of cats from the houses of people who were elderly, demented, alcoholic, or otherwise could not control their households.  I’ve been in houses caked two inches deep with feces. I was the education coordinator and read a great deal about these problems.  The bigger cat hoards in Valier are people who are elderly, sick, or gone much of the time.  Some houses are used by rental people who move on and the cats they fed go hungry until the next people move in. 

There are many degrees of attachment between cats and households.  Some are beloved pets, some are “satellites” who sneak in and out through cat doors or eat food on porches, some are spooky true ferals.  The cat that gives me the most grief is a black and white tomcat who is a pet but visits here.  He never eats here as I feed indoors and my cats attack him, slamming the cat flap on his head.

One man on the block did trap feral cats and took them to ranchers.  The man who trapped cats has quit.  His own cat spends a lot of time in my yard.  It makes no trouble and is very ancient.  They always need more because the coyotes kill cats.  The Cut Bank Animal Control officer told me that a town that has no leash law for dogs will also have no problem with feral cats.   Another man’s dog killed one of the cats that stayed here.  Ranchers are used to simply shooting small animals, but one cannot shoot in town.

Cats are a more emotional subject than dogs.  I’ve heard grown women in this town almost hysterical over hating any cats at all, owned or not, indoors or not.  They seem to equate cats with sex, dirt, and degeneracy.  They may be projecting after early years of hardship.  Or maybe they are vulnerable to talk about Satan and witches.  They react as though cats were snakes or spiders. On the other hand some people are deeply attached to their pets and will grieve hard if they die or go missing.  Cat “ownership” is a slippery concept.  Some say the cat is the owner.

Niches in housing, old buildings, sheds, abandoned vehicles, and so on are responsible for many feral cat colonies.  One of the things on my list is making my back shed impenetrable.  Again, my government check makes this easier.  Clearly, cat issues are not confined to cats and are often resolved by money which can be in short supply.

Valier is “in process” with a changing population and therefore changing ideas of what’s proper.  Some, especially newcomers, are trying to achieve a model town that may be only a fantasy.  They pick out some aspect and try to control it, without regard of the previous dwellers.  As with so many issues, education is probably more effective than unenforceable laws.

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