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A file photo of the cat colony.

Buckhannon seeks to deter cat dumping with new signage at Riverwalk — and, if possible, a camera

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Animal Care and Control Board has voted to add new signage near the cat colony at the Riverwalk trail, warning people that dumping cats is a legal offense.

At its March 11 meeting, the board acknowledged a recent notice posted by the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department warning community members not to interact with stray cats and the dangers of rabies, even though a rabies case has not been recorded in the area recently.

“Although there has not been a confirmed case of animal rabies in Upshur County, [the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department] cannot rule out the possibility of contracting rabies from the bite of infected animals, including cats,” the notice says.

The notice went on to state that stray or feral cats pose an increased risk of contracting rabies “due to their wild natures.” The post may be read in its entirety on the department’s Facebook page.

ACC Board member Elissa Linger linked the heightened concern to 2024 being an election year and also said most, if not all, feral cats have no interest in interacting with people.

“During election years, people tend to bring up issues they would like to see taken care of to their personal satisfaction, and I know there are people that feel the feral cat colonies are a danger to society,” Linger said. “It’s like the issues between the Republicans and the Democrats — they each have their sides and their opinions, and I’m not going to say either one’s 100 percent right, but what I am going to say is [fearing feral cats] is nuts.”

“Stray or feral cats do not come out and search out people,” she continued. “I’ve worked with them for more than 15 years. If you don’t believe me, try catching a stray or feral cat.”

Linger said the increased number of cats at the colony can be attributed to people dumping them.

“If we do anything, we need for people to start paying attention and if you see someone dropping off an animal — I don’t care if it’s a dog or a cat — get a license plate number and report them,” she said. “Number one, the animal is probably not going to survive on its own; number two, it’s an unbelievable act of cruelty; and number three, that’s the only way you’re ever going to put a stop to this stuff.”

Board member Robin Keough suggested placing a sign informing people that the dumping of animals is a offense. She also recommended arranging a news story informing the community about their efforts to catch and release the cats.

“We could do a little story at the cat colony saying it’s wrong to abandon a cat,” Keough said. “This is a stable colony, and we’re trying to vaccinate them and keep it stable. We need to tell them that if they don’t drop any more off, they’ll just die off naturally, and do not attempt to pick them up. If you want to adopt a cat, go to the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said they could work on a new sign, but the problem could be difficult to monitor.

“We could work on that signage, but here’s the thing — we must figure out a way to enforce it because we had officers down there, camped out after we put up the ‘No Feeding’ sign to catch people in the act,” Skinner said. “Word got out and passed on to the people who feed the cats, and the minute the officer would go somewhere else or be off duty or go to another call or whatever, then they would rush in and feed the cats while he was gone.”

Board members asked Skinner why the city hadn’t installed a camera to monitor the situation at the colony.

“We used to have a network there; the problem is, when the city turned the former city street garage over to the college (West Virginia Wesleyan), we lost the antenna that was on the little tower on top of the building that acted as a signal connector for the camera,” Skinner said. “Now that we don’t have that facility anymore, the Riverwalk area is difficult for us to get a signal back here, so we need to figure out a spot where a property owner would allow us to have a tower that could be used as a repeater to have a camera work down there.”

The board voted to add new signage at the colony and investigate a method to add a camera in the vicinity.

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