August 30, 2012

Feral cats run wild in Saco, but not for long

City officials will begin a court-ordered plan to permanently remove any cats found without a collar, but not everybody is happy.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAMP ELLIS — Jerry Chevalier used to find litters of kittens under a pile of old lobster traps, and feces strewn across the lawn of his family's home.

Today's poll: Feral cats

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This cat perched atop a wall in the parking lot alongside Wormwoods Restaurant at Camp Ellis in Saco on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Dr. Eleanor Saboski removes an empty trap alongside a outbuilding at the Wormwoods Restaurant at Camp Ellis in Saco on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. The trap was used to catch and release over 60 feral cats over a two-year period at Camp Ellis.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

For the past couple of years, he's noticed fewer feral cats in the narrow alleys, on the jetty and around the pier of Saco's coastal Camp Ellis neighborhood.

"I still see a lot of cats, but nowhere near the number I used to see," Chevalier said Thursday as he sat outside Chevy's Bait and Tackle. "They've been disappearing. I thought nature was taking care of its own."

There likely will be even fewer cats in Camp Ellis when city officials begin a court-ordered plan within the next week to permanently remove the feral cat colony.

Feral cats have been here for decades. Residents and volunteers tried in recent years to reduce the size of the cat colony, but it wasn't enough to head off a lawsuit by a resident who was fed up with cat feces on his property.

Robert Bourque and his family, who own two homes on Bay Avenue, sued the city and their next-door neighbors, Colin and Linda Wormwood. According to documents in York County Superior Court, the Wormwoods have fed cats at their home and their business, Wormwood's Restaurant.

The cats "do not contaminate just our personal property, they present a risk to the public at large due to the fact they defecate on the beaches as well," the Bourque family said in a letter to the city in December.

The Bourques, the Wormwoods and city officials are prohibited from talking about the lawsuit or its resolution under the terms of a consent judgment and order signed Aug. 21.

But the city must begin removing cats by Tuesday and take them to the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk. The shelter will keep the cats until they can be placed in homes.

In the past two years, the cat population at Camp Ellis has been reduced significantly under a trap, spay-neuter release program led by volunteers from Friends of Feral Felines, said Eleanor Saboski, a volunteer with the organization.

Since September 2010, she has trapped 61 cats, 26 of which were considered unadoptable and released back into Camp Ellis after they were vaccinated and fixed by veterinarians. Saboski, who continues to monitor the cats, said she believes fewer than seven remain.

Saboski is leading an effort to stop the cat removals and has gathered more than 1,000 signatures on an online petition. Supporters will meet at Wormwood's Restaurant this weekend for a rally, she said.

The complaints in the lawsuit aren't the only ones that have been lodged with the city. Complaints date back at least a decade, said Police Chief Bradley Paul.

Before 2003, the city got complaints from residents about the number of cats, including some that regularly defecated under a home. Paul said the city dealt with the problem but he doesn't know if any cats were removed at the time.

Paul issued a statement Wednesday asking Camp Ellis residents to put collars on their pet cats to help the city avoid bringing them to the animal shelter. The city will provide collars to residents whose cats don't already wear them.

"We are very concerned with people who have outdoor cats," he said. "We don't want to remove people's owned and cared-for outdoor pets."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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A cat crosses the street in front of Wormwoods Restaurant at Camp Ellis in Saco on Wednesday, August 29, 2012.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

  


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Today's poll: Feral cats

Do you think the town of Saco should try to trap and remove a feral cat colony at Camp Ellis?

Yes

No

View Results