In cities and towns all over the country, there could be colonies of feral cats. Big or small, hidden or in the open, these colonies are more common than most people assume. The city of Plattsburgh is no exception.

Colonies are established when people abandon their animals. When cats are left behind or removed from their homes, they are then considered community cats, still domesticated and friendly enough to find another home, but after some time, they become identified as feral because they haven’t had the nurturing of a human or a home to live in a long time.

They find a location where they have access to food and shelter, and that becomes their new home and territory. The feral cats that find the colony reproduce and populate the area.

These colonies continue to expand if the animals are not spayed or neutered. At five months old, a female cat can have two to three litters of a couple to several kittens a year, according to the Humane Society of the United States’ website, humanesociety.org.

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In most cases, they find secluded areas to form their colony, and most passersby won’t notice the colony at all because the animals remain hidden. With less human contact, the cats are more likely to stay or become feral, according to the Humane Society.

Plattsburgh resident Pam Brush has been maintaining a cat colony in the city for three years. Every afternoon, she visits the colony to feed and give love and attention to the cats after another woman, who also lives in Plattsburgh, feeds them earlier in the day.

Brush said that she had first heard about the problem when her friend mentioned how many cats were in the area and how it was beginning to become an issue. Because of her love for animals, Brush has been doing what she can to help since then.

“There were an upwards of 45 cats here, and now we are down to 18,” Brush said. “They are all fixed and have their rabies vaccinations.”

She said these animals have to be fixed so they cannot procreate. When she first started volunteering with those 45 cats, she and fellow Plattsburgh resident Lil Cassidy set traps for the cats so they could catch the animals and bring them to the vet to get vaccinated and spayed or neutered. They have found homes for the younger, less feral, animals through PetSmart and the Adirondack Humane Society before its closing and found people to take them in.

“If we don’t (take care of them), they’ll starve,” Brush said. “Some we could find homes for, but there are so many cats.”

She said people don’t realize the cat population issue and that nobody cares. Brush said that in the three years she has been involved, they have found homes for 180 cats.

“People just think they are a nuisance, and people don’t want them around,” Brush said. “So, they just let them go.”

Brush and Cassidy do what they can to find homes for these creatures, but not without making sure they are going to a good home. They said one of their biggest concerns when they are looking for a new home for the cats is that the new owners won’t declaw the animal.

Brush said they check vet records to make sure they are well equip to take care of the cat they have been taking care of since its arrival to the colony. Another interest they have is keeping the new pets indoors.

“Some lady said a coyote killed her cats, so she wanted one and she was going to let them in and out,” Brush said. “They’ll just have a longer life (if they are indoors), and they’re just happier and safer. They get used to being inside.”

She said they get so many cats to begin with because people drop them off when they don’t want their pets anymore. She said someone “dumped” seven kittens in July, and recently, someone dropped off three cats. All were taken to the vet.

“People don’t understand once the colony’s established, they won’t let anyone (any new cat) in,” Brush said. “If you dump a cat, they chase them out and won’t let them in. It’s closed.”

She said it is the nature of the animal, and it could be because of the food they are given and space they have taken. Brush said the cats probably want to make sure they have enough food for themselves and the already established colony.

Since they started taking care of these animals as retired women, Brush and Cassidy have been financing their volunteer work from their own pockets. They have created shelters for the colony — some they bought, others they built and others they were given. They line them with straw, which she said is “pretty cheap.” Every day the women fill the animals’ feeding stations with dry food and clean water. In the winter, they provide the cats with blankets to keep them warm in the freezing temperatures.

Plattsburgh State senior TV video production and digital media double major Frankie Cavone lives near the colony in center-city Plattsburgh, so he is very aware of the colony’s existence.

“It is kind of cool that they have shelters for these cats because it is where these animals go in the winter during subzero degrees,” Cavone said. “I think it’s nice that they do that cause nobody would do that.”

He said he believes the cats congregate in Plattsburgh because student housing is “pretty filthy,” and because of the considerable amounts of trash in the area, the cats act as scavengers, and it is in their nature to find food.

Brush said she thinks the colony started a few years ago by college students leaving their cats behind during breaks because their parents wouldn’t allow them to bring the animal home or the students just didn’t want to be responsible for it anymore. The cats were out to fend for themselves.

Cavone’s roommate, PSUC senior digital media major Ian Nasutowicz, said he was unaware this cat colony existed before this year.

“I hope people start taking in the stray cats (for the winter), but I doubt that happens,” Nasutowicz said. “I did take one in.”

The pair took in a cat, which they named Paul, this semester and loved having it go in and out of their apartment. Cavone said the reason he fed it the first time was because it was obvious the cat was missing a home.

After a few weeks, the cat hadn’t returned to Cavone and Nasutowicz’s home.

Plattsburgh City Councilor Paul O’Connell presented legislation Oct. 15 for a new local law stating, “No person, firm, corporation or association shall intentionally feed, harbor or keep any pigeons, feral cats and other wild animals … within the city of Plattsburgh…”

Brush said it was unfair to put the cats in the mix of those wild animals because they were house cats at one time and aren’t wild.

According to the meeting minutes, Councilor Becky Kasper said it was time to address the problem and that she would reach out to other community members to form a resolution.

“That discussion was a means to remove feral cats from the law because many people take care of feral cats,” Kasper said. “He was all for it because he had done it inadvertently. Somebody had mentioned feral cats to him (O’Connell), and he put it in.”

She said feral cats have since been removed from the law, and the piece of legislation was passed Oct. 12 with a unanimous vote by the city council.

“People have them (the cats) as pets and then abandon them,” Kasper said. “They have to fend for themselves.”

She said PSUC students are included in causing the problem of the overgrown colonies. She said the people who care for these colonies are doing what should be done.

“You just want to slowly reduce the populations by making it impossible for them to breed,” Kasper said. “But you’re never going to get rid of the problem of people abandoning their pets.”

That doesn’t stop the volunteers from taking care of these animals.

Brush said they sometimes stumble upon donations of food people bring for the animals, and she said any contribution they receive helps.

“I have enough. I would go without before I would not feed them,” Brush said. “Sometimes it’s hard when they are eating as much as they are eating.”

During the summer, they don’t need as much to sustain themselves, but in the fall she said the cats eat a lot because they are bulking up for the winter, and they also eat a lot on the winter.

“(We) shovel them out and feed them every day,” Brush said. “We just do hot water in the winter so it doesn’t freeze.”

She said students sometimes help shovel out the colony during the colder months. When the students cut through the colony, they are usually respectful and don’t bother the animals. PSUC fraternity Phi Mu Delta has taken time this semester to assist the women in caring for the colony.

“One of the big things that we did was clean out space to put new cat houses,” Phi Mu Delta member Kyle Chapman said. “Initially, there were five little cat shelters. By the time we were done, there were about eight.”

Chapman said one of the members of his organization has a connection to Focus on Ferals, a non-profit organization founded in 2011 that is run by volunteers dedicated to “humanely reducing the feral and stray cat population” in Franklin and Clinton County, and he asked his brothers for support.

“I think we spend a lot of time focused on the people in the community, and I think it’s nice to recognize that there are other organisms in the community,” Chapman said. “It is a great cause, and I had fun.”

Kasper said members of the community work hard to take care of this population, and they understand the value and the “inherent dignity of the cats and want to make sure they are treated humanely.”

Brush said the colony is under control and that nobody can move a colony because the cats will try to return to their home.

“To everyone out there who wants to help in some way, all you have to do is look,” Chapman said. “There are so many other organizations out there that need help, whether it be taking care of animals, the elderly, the hospital. Everyone needs help.”

Email Lisa Scivolette at fuse@cardinalpointsonline.com

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