A decades-old problem, feral cats continue to pose challenge for Merriam

Photo credit Shutterstock.
Photo credit Shutterstock.

By Sophie Tulp

A Merriam resident last month complained to the city that the feral cats living in and around Brown Memorial Park near 50th Terrace and England Street are being targeted by coyotes and foxes during the night, an “unpleasant” situation according to Mayor Ken Sissom — but one that’s not new.

Before Sissom became mayor of Merriam, he was the city’s police chief for 13 years, serving a total of 26 years on the Merriam police force. Sissom says feral cats have always been an issue in the city.

“We used to pick them up and trap them and take them into Animal Haven years ago and they would be put to sleep, and over the years a couple policy changes have made that impossible,” Sissom said.

But while the city has dealt with the cats for decades, the options are slim when it comes to solutions. Sissom says the city used to use their animal control resources to pick up the cats, but over time it became increasingly expensive to locate, trap immunize and alter the growing population of cats, all on the city’s dime.

When Animal Haven became the Great Plains SPCA it became a no-kill shelter and started charging higher rates. In the past, the city would pick up that cats knowing that they would never be adopted and would pay a daily fee to board the animals. Within the first three or four months of the year, the city would have already spent their entire annual budget for animal control on the cats.

“We had to make a policy change and say we can’t pick them up anymore,” Sissom said.

Animal Control Officer Jamie Brokaw defines a “feral cat” as a cat that was born in the wild, and was not domesticated. And while they are not often dangerous in behavior, they can carry various diseases, including rabies. She says that part of the city’s problem when it comes to the cats is that citizens don’t realize they are wild animals.

“These animals are wild, and people I don’t think understand sometimes that they are wild so what they are doing is people feel bad for them and don’t understand that they can hunt so they feed them, and keep them around, which creates more of a problem,” Brokaw said. “It’s kind of a neverending problem until they all get spayed and neutered.”

Brokaw and Sissom agree that trapping the animals is a very timely task for officers, and they no longer offer the trap, spay and neuter services on the city budget.

But there are options for citizens who want to take matters into their own hands when it comes to the cats. The Great Plains SPCA animal shelter in Merriam offers a trap, spay and neuter program. The $30 program allows an individual citizen to trap a feral cat, bring it into the shelter, and have it spayed, neutered and given a rabies vaccine before it is returned into the wild.

For citizens sho can’t trap the cats themselves, the SPCA offers their Hero program, a program in which SPCA workers pick up the cats, and provide help for abused animals among other duties.

When it comes to the cats in Brown Park, while mayor Sissom agrees that it is a “sad” situation, he calls it nature, citing that there isn’t much else the city can offer.

“I don’t know what to say. That’s nature,” Sissom said. “They live next to the park and you can’t control the way animals behave, it’s sad that he has to hear that at night but…we just don’t have the time, money and resources.”

UPDATE: We got the following message from reader Kevin Cullen: “You might mention that cats that have already been Trapped, Neutered, and Released have the tip of their left ear clipped straight across. That way people can tell which ones not to bother trapping again. I have 2 TNR cats I took in, both from Merriam!”