ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Due to financial strain and overcrowding, the Belmont County Animal Shelter will no longer be accepting cats — and officials there are searching for homes for those felines currently housed in the shelter.
Dog Warden Lisa Williams said after this change in policy, the shelter will concentrate on finding homes for the cats it already has.
“But the cats are still there for adoption,” she said, adding that about 50 cats are at the shelter. “It’s not like cats are being adopted left and right, so it’s going to be awhile before we’re able to place them.
“Everybody’s full. None of the rescues are taking cats,” she continued. “I’ve reached out. It’s that time of year. It’s kitten season. … There’s quite a few cats, and they multiply four times a year.”
Williams added that the shelter staff members also hope to hear from people looking for a cat as a pet.
“We’re looking for good homes. We want people to come out to the shelter and adopt a cat,” she said.
This leaves communities to deal with the issue of the stray cat population, since the animal shelter will not respond to calls to pick up stray cats.
“Dog wardens do not pick up stray cats,” Williams said. “We can refer them to different places, but most of the time they’re not accepted. People refer people to us, and we’re not accepting. It’s a bad, bad thing for the cats. People need to spay and neuter. If they spay and neuter we wouldn’t have all these cats.”
She added that two area rescue centers assist with spaying and neutering. These are the Catstration Program and the Belmont County Animal Rescue League. Both help pay toward these procedures.
“There’s no reason people can’t. There is help out there to get them spayed and neutered. We don’t need these poor cats out there. … ,” she said. “It’s a sad thing for cats. It really is.”
The Belmont County Board of Commissioners has spoken with Williams about the financial situation at the shelter in prior work sessions. Closing the shelter to additional cats was discussed as one possible way of alleviating the shelter’s budget deficit. Commissioner Mark Thomas said the board is continuing to reach out to other organizations that may house cats. However, Ohio Revised Code does not require that the county provide a shelter for cats; only dogs must be housed by the county.
“We must act on that notion, as we are fiscally responsible to our residents,” Thomas said. “The taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of housing animals that need to be paid for by the general fund. If the Ohio Revised Code is silent on cats, and it is, the commissioners must be responsive to our taxpayers first and the animals second.
According to Barb Blake, finance officer for the commissioners, in 2016 the cost to house the shelter’s cats was $115,226; housing dogs cost $442,949. Fees paid for dog licenses help fund the shelter, but cats are not licensed.
The lack of a shelter facility for cats likely will cause a strain on some communities. Officials in municipalities around the region say the stray cat population is a problem.
“It is definitely an issue,” St. Clairsville Police Chief Jeff Henry said. “We get calls all the time about cats, and there’s nothing that the city can do. If we do trap them, we have no place to take them to since the animal shelter’s not taking them any longer.”
He said this will mean increased difficulties for the city.
“We’ve had calls on stray cats. I don’t know if the city’s going to have to do something. We have no recourse, nowhere to take them. The animal shelter in the last, probably three months, has trapped quite a few cats for us. Along with trapping they’ve also taken them. We’ve had people who have died and had cats in the house. We’ve had people that were in the hospital, and they’ve had cats in the house.”
Henry added that the city’s facilities and resources are limited.
“The only way that we can take care of a cat is if the people know whose cat it is, and they can file charges,” Henry said. “The responsible cat owners, they take care of their cats. It’s the strays we have problems with. The stray and feral cats.”
Martins Ferry Mayor Robert Krajnyak said the change in shelter policy means pockets of stray or feral cats may increase in numbers. Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland said the problem would be alleviated by more responsible cat ownership.
“There’s so many cats out there that are feral cats, stray cats. There’s probably hundreds in Martins Ferry, thousands in the rest of the county,” McFarland said. “If there’s an issue, call the police department. Too many people get a kitten or cat and they don’t get them fixed and they don’t keep them inside the house. They end up getting pregnant, and then you have eight cats. They overpopulate neighborhoods, they’re not taken care of like they should be, and you run into the problems that we have. … If someone has a cat, they need to be responsible for them.”
Krajnyak said volunteer organizations such as the BACK Street Cats trap cats, spay and neuter them, then release the animals. The Bethesda-based BACK Street program can be reached at 740-238-8525. BCARL can be reached at 740-296-8644. The animal shelter can be reached at 740-695-7408.