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Claws, Talons Out for Hearing on Feral Cat Colonies

By Ted Cox | March 19, 2013 6:25am | Updated on March 19, 2013 10:13am

CHICAGO — Cat fanciers and bird watchers rallied their forces ahead of a hearing on feral cat colonies set for Tuesday morning.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has had an ordinance on the books for five years allowing for the maintenance of wild cat colonies. It aims to slowly diminish the population of wild cats through trapping, neutering and releasing them.

But it also allows approved agencies to care for the cats and feed them in hopes of limiting their hunting.

Yet a recent study reporting that U.S. cats kill 2.4 million birds and 12.3 million mammals a year caused an outcry that led Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) to call for a hearing on the issue. Cat shelters and birding groups such as the Audubon Society immediately began pushing their sides of the story.

Suffredin seemed somewhat chagrined at the attention the issue is getting, and the hearing appeared to be drawing both sides with their claws, or talons, out. It was set for 10 a.m.  in the County Board Meeting Room on the fifth floor of the Cook County Building, 118 N. Clark St.

Suffredin emphasized Monday that it's an informational hearing, mainly intended to give Dr. Donna Alexander, head of the county's Department of Animal and Rabies Control, the "opportunity to tell us the program is working — or not working."

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, in fact, is not expected to attend.

Yet others are getting involved.

Alexander will address the Forest Preserve Board, as will Dr. Stan Gehrt, of the Max McGraw Foundation, who is expected to present a counterstudy showing that feral cats rarely enter the forest preserves because of the threat of falling prey to coyotes.

Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago, and Dave deFuniak, executive director of Tree House Humane Society, will both testify on how they're administering the county's program.

Other expected attendees, according to county spokeswoman Mary Paleologos, include groups on both sides of the issue, such as the Audubon Society, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Alley Cat Allies, the American and Chicago Veterinary Medical Associations and various humane societies.

Paleologos said since the start of the program in 2007, humane society sponsors have spayed, neutered and vaccinated about 12,000 cats. Before the program, several Cook County municipalities were capturing and euthanizing 500 cats a year at a cost of $245 a cat.

Municipalities were spending $122,500 per year and not reducing the wild cat population, according to Alexander, who estimates the program has prevented the birth of 336,000 more feral cats and saved municipalities $612,500.