Meet the team of volunteers keeping Columbia’s stray cat population under control | Local News

Meet the team of volunteers keeping Columbia’s stray cat population under control | Local News

Staggering stray cat statistics and caring hearts landed Rosemary and her soft, white kitty paws back into the arms of her family.

Rosemary had disappeared in December 2021 from the Rosario family’s Columbia home, and she had ended up at the York SPCA through the work of the Columbia Cat Action Team, which works to trap, spay/neuter and release strays. The SPCA discovered Rosemary had a microchip placed near her neck with recorded information on her owners.

The SPCA contacted her owner, Hector Rosario, asking whether he still wanted Rosemary or would rather place her for adoption.

“I told her I was hanging up the phone and rushing right in,” said Rosario, who now lives in Hershey but works at ASC Engineered Solutions in Columbia. “My whole office was cheering.”

Columbia Cat Action Team volunteers have trapped and neutered about 123 felines since June. Some cats find new homes, while others return outdoors after surgery. The group’s Facebook page posts cats available for adoption as well as trapped cats, in case someone is looking for a missing feline.

That’s what happened to Sarah Hill of Columbia after Romeo, her 3-year-old orange and white tabby, disappeared recently. Romeo had a chip, but the associated phone number no longer worked. Hill checked Facebook after hearing the team may have trapped Romeo.

“My kids and I were ecstatic when they found him,” Hill said. Romeo spent about a week outdoors before being trapped.

How it started

Todd Burgard told stunned fellow council members last May that Columbia’s estimated population of 1,000 community cats could grow to more than 11 million in nine years, providing the felines had two litters a year and that about three cats survived from each litter.

“It took us weeks to put all that information together,” said Burgard, who worked with fellow council member Sharon Lintner after several resident complaints about cats causing property damage and killing wildlife. Stray cats kill between 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds each year in the United States, Burgard and Lintner reported. Worldwide, cats have decimated 33 species of birds.

“It’s a really hard problem to tackle,” Burgard said, noting that hungry cats also can damage trash cans and kill small animals. “Stray cats are a subject people are passionate about.”

A public call for volunteers drew so many people that Burgard called it “mind-blowing.” Alan Landsman, 43, who already had started his own personal cat rescue journey, was one of the first people to step up.

“I never thought of myself as a cat person,” he said. “I was just a guy who had a cat.”

Alan Landsman and Lily

Alan Landsman, CCAT chair, with Lily, of the kittens he trapped and spayed but decided to keep.

Landsman moved to Columbia in 2020 with his cat Morris, now 14. He soon discovered a cat colony living outside his row home near North Second and Poplar streets.

“I always try to do the next right thing,” said Landsman, who focused on this purpose after serving 12 months in a federal penitentiary for a 2018 felony mail fraud conviction.

“Alan has really proven himself,” Lintner said. “He’s a well-respected leader. “

He used plastic crates and straw to build backyard shelters, which he researched online. Then Landsman discovered a cat and her four newborn kittens inside one of the contraptions, and he brought the family inside.

A GoFundMe online fundraiser brought in about $1,100 so Landsman could pay for shelter services and continue to rescue strays. He kept one of the kittens, Lily, and found homes for the rest. Lily’s parents, who have been spayed and neutered, still live in Landsman’s backyard.

Landsman spoke at a borough council meeting and agreed to run the cat action team as a volunteer. By September, borough council voted to put a temporary hold on citing people for feeding stray cats while the committee formed a plan to care for them.

Borough council members voted Feb. 14 to advertise an amended ordinance that deals with the care and control of animals. The reworded document would allow CCAT members to regularly feed community cats in preparation for the animals to be trapped, neutered and then adopted or returned to their outdoor environment.

How it’s going

Heather Zink, council president, said members hope to vote on the matter Tuesday, Feb. 28, their next meeting.

“Everything we’ve learned about feral cats is that feeding them can help control the colonies,” said Mark Stivers, borough manager. Volunteers also can withhold food to aid in trapping them for spaying and neutering.

Council previously allocated $6,500 in this year’s budget to pay for CCAT. CCAT members feed each community cat about one cup of dry cat food a day, making sure to bring in any extra food before dark to keep away other animals. Members put out traps every other week, and they withhold food for about 24 hours to ensure hungry felines will go inside.

“Outdoor cats can go 24 hours without food,” volunteer Dee Henry said. “They are not going to starve to death.” Henry, who lives in Lancaster, joined CCAT after she heard about the effort from her Columbia church.

Trapped cats usually stay inside the heated garage of Columbia volunteers Rita and Jean Pierre Seibel until they can be taken to York SPCA, the Columbia Animal Shelter or the Lancaster SPCA. CCAT works with all three, depending on which organization has availability.

The York SPCA works to provide low-cost services, said Kristin Dempwolf, the shelter’s communications director, charging about $20 to $25 per cat. The organization performed about 11,000 spay/neuter procedures in 2022, and about 6,300 were done on community cats.

Felines receive rabies and distemper vaccines and are spayed or neutered. They return to the Seibel garage for 48-72 hours for observation before being returned to their colonies or heading to new homes.

“Some cats are extremely friendly,” Seibel said. “Some are feral. We do everything we can to keep them calm.”

For the Rosarios, though, Rosemary’s return remains bittersweet. Her brother, Cilantro, escaped with her and has yet to be found. CCAT members, however, now have his picture and have started searching.

Commented Landsman: “I am now a cat person.”