Animal Care and Control Commission member Elissa Linger discusses the cat colony at the board's recent meeting. (Photo by Monica Zalaznik)

City animal commission ponders spay-and-neuter program for growing cat colony along River Walk trail

BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon Animal Care and Control Commission hopes to partner with West Virginia Wesleyan College and Luv 4 Animals to address the cat colony near the River Walk.

The Animal Care and Control Commission discussed the seemingly growing number of cats at the colony along the river during their Jan. 9 meeting.

“We’ve been dealing with the ongoing and very unfortunate situation where people take domesticated cats they no longer want and they drop them off at the River Trail,” Mayor Robbie Skinner said. “Not all cats there are feral, there are also domesticated cats there. You can tell because of the way they interact with you when you are over there. We had an effort to try to relocate some of those cats, but as soon as you see a reduction in the cat colony, it seems like more come. And they’re different, it’s not the same cats.”

Skinner recounted events that occurred last spring that led to the city erecting signage near the colony, asking people not to feed the animals.

“That drew a whole lot of controversy,” Skinner said. “I understand if they’re down there, it’s not humane to just let them starve. But if you feed them, they will come and they have been coming — a lot. I don’t know what the answer is.”

Skinner said the college, which owns the property, is concerned about the welfare of the cats. He also debunked social media rumors that the city was killing cats.

“There was a there was a Facebook post back in June where someone said we were killing the cats,” Skinner said. “We have never once killed a cat. We are not in the business of trapping cats, although we do if a resident requests it done near their property because there are feral cats in a neighborhood. But you have to make a request as the property owner for us to come and trap a cat. No one has ever asked us to go down there and trap cats, and I want that to be made clear: We have never once harmed a cat or euthanized a cat. We love animals.”

Skinner emphasized that he understood Wesleyan’s cautious approach toward the cat colony.

“Wesleyan’s leadership has made it clear they want to ensure the cats are taken care of properly,” Skinner said. “If they’re removed from there, they want to make sure that they are given either a good home or they are taken to a place where they’re not going to be ultimately euthanized, and we share that mission.”

Animal Care and Control Commission member Elissa Linger suggested a collaboration so the cats could be humanely trapped, spayed or neutered, and then released.

“Since the Lewis-Upshur Animal Control Facility is building a surgical unit, I wonder if it would be possible if we were to continue to fundraise, to humanely catch the cats over there and pay a nominal fee to the new surgical unit to fix the cats so they won’t reproduce anymore,” Linger said. “It wouldn’t fix the whole problem, but it certainly would take a bite out of it.”

Skinner said he liked the idea, but they would need to get Wesleyan on board. Commission member Alison Whitehair, who is the Vice President for Student Affairs at the college, said she would be happy to bring the matter to interim president James Moore.

“I know James and the cabinet are always happy to continue conversations if we feel like there’s something the college could do or should do,” Whitehair said. “I’m comfortable having that conversation with James and I know he’d be receptive. It is important to him as an animal lover that we are humane in the way those cats are treated, but I think the college also recognizes the issue, so I’m happy to take anything forward.”

City of Buckhannon Director of Finance and Administration Amby Jenkins said the city may also have to alter an existing city ordinance before they could commence a trap-and-release program.

“Amby suggested that currently, our ordinance structure does not allow for that,” Skinner said. “There would have to be a recommendation from this meeting or from this board to our city attorney to look into how our ordinance structure could be modified to allow for a catch-and-release program. Right now, we don’t allow any feral animals or any animals of any kind to be roaming the streets and roaming our city limits at large.”

The board also suggested bringing Luv 4 Animals into the loop because they already have experience with organizing appointments for animals to be spayed and neutered.

“Why don’t we try to coordinate a meeting soon with Luv 4 Animals, because it may be easier for them to do this,” Skinner said. “Maybe we should try to combine our efforts and have any sort of donations go to them, as a true nonprofit, because the city is not a 501 organization. Let’s try to get a meeting with them, and then if that ends up not being possible, we can circle back around and talk to [city attorney] Tom O’Neill about what it would look like to alter our ordinance structure to allow us to do this. That way we’re not reinventing the wheel.”

Skinner said the Animal Care and Control Commission meets quarterly, so he wanted to meet with representatives from Luv 4 Animals before their next scheduled meeting.

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