A task force is working to determine whether Fort Smith has too many wild cats roaming its streets.
Fort Smith's Animal Services Advisory Board says it wants to stop the feral cat population from becoming a problem before it gets any worse. To do that, board members say they need some input from Fort Smith residents.
Specifically, the board wants to know where the feral cat problem is in Fort Smith and just how bad others think it is.
Not to be confused with domesticated outdoor cats, feral cats have not been socialized by humans and are like any other wild animal.
Dr. Jon Remer, a Fort Smith veterinarian and member of the Animal Services Advisory Board, says the life of a feral cat is a tough one. Feral cats face disease, starvation, attack from other animals, being hit by a car and harsh weather extremes. When the temperatures drop, feral cats will look for places to hide from the bitter cold.
"We have a feral cat that was underneath the hood of a car in the winter," explained Dr. Remer of his clinic's resident cat, Salem. "They started the car, the fan belt came across, lacerated her feet, and removed one of her feet."
Since feral cats are exposed to other wild animals, they may carry diseases. Nichole Morgan, chairman of the board, says it's important to address the feral cat problem before it becomes a public health concern.
"They're not an out and out active danger, but as they get bigger and we don't want them in our area, or if kids want to try and interact with them because they have Fluffy at home, then it becomes more of a problem," Morgan said.
According to the ASPCA, the average cat produces one or two litters each year, with about four to six kittens per litter.
The best way to manage the growing population is by controlling how fast the cats breed, according to Dr. Remer. He says the most humane and the most effective way to control the population is to catch the tom cats, vasectomize them and then release them back to their cat colonies.
"We tend to expect a greater decrease in the colony's numbers because that cat will chase all other in tact males off, and every cat that he mates with will be infertile," Dr. Remer said.
Dr. Remer said neutering male cats will cut off their hormone supply, and, as a result, the male cats will no longer be driven to fight off other male cats attempting to invade their territory. A new male cat will simply move in and take over the "pride," Remer said.
Remer said euthanization is also not the best way to manage the population because the cats will breed faster than authorities are able to euthanize them.
At this point, the board asks people to report feral cats to the animal control officers at the Fort Smith Police Department so they can begin tracking the colonies. If the board determines there is a feral cat problem in Fort Smith, they will apply for grants to cover the cost to fund the program at no cost to the city, Morgan said.