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Humane but frugal remedy sought for problem of feral cats in Olcott

Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg told animal advocates Wednesday night that the town is willing to work with them for a humane solution to a feral cat problem in the hamlet of Olcott -- as long as it doesn't cost the town any money.

The town was planning to trap cats around the town marina on Lake Ontario until a coterie of animal rescuers stepped in.

"We will sit down with these people as a Town Board next week," Horanburg said.

But he warned, "I cannot unload the cost on the taxpayers. That's a definite."

The rescuers said they have experience raising funds for animal projects and are willing to do so again.

A crowd of about 60 people at Wednesday night's Town Board meeting heard owners of charter boats and summer rental cottages say the cats are ruining their businesses and the quality of life in Olcott, especially in the western half of the hamlet, where the marina is located.

Bev Mandeville, owner of five rental cottages, and Linda Johnson, who owns six, said their customers have been vocal in their complaints about the roaming cats.

"The smell of cat urine is ridiculous," Johnson said. "Complaint after complaint, when we're trying to earn a living."

"There are feces in our yards. They're climbing in our guests' vehicles, climbing on the cars," Mandeville said. "There are tons of tourist dollars that are going to go somewhere else, because we're going to get a reputation."

Charter fishing boat captain Don Harris said, "I've gotten on my boat in the morning and had cats flying off it."

Many of the animal rescuers live in or around Newfane, several in Olcott itself. Two of them, Jill Masset and Edie Offhaus, are co-founders of Feral Cat Focus.

They and other speakers at the two-hour meeting said that the only method of cat control that will work is trap-neuter-and-return, or TNR.

"We have the studies that show TNR will reduce the populations over a period of time," said Carol Tutzauer, of Wilson-Burt Road, president of Buffalo Humane.

"If you take all the cats out, the area is ripe for more cats to move in," Offhaus said. "You want a healthy colony that is vaccinated, not a free-for-all."

However, they acknowledged that results won't be immediate, which didn't suit the business owners.

Horanburg said he's worried about "losing boats and charter boats that won't come to our marina anymore. Lake Ontario is very competitive. We have an excellent port with excellent services, and we're losing [visitors] because of one issue."

The supervisor said he didn't realize that feral cats will die quickly if removed from their neighborhoods. Elizabeth Allore of Countryside Veterinary Clinic, Lockport, said that's because they become disoriented and don't know how to find food.

Masset said the animal rescuers are willing to do a trapping blitz and have the healthy cats spayed or neutered at Operation Pets in Lackawanna.

"It was never our intention to kill the cats," Horanburg said. "We were going to transport them to the SPCA."

But Amy Lewis, director of the SPCA of Niagara, said her organization won't take the feral cats. Councilwoman Laura L. Rutland accused Lewis of misleading her on that issue in a previous phone conversation, but Lewis insisted that she made it clear that unadoptable feral cats are not part of her mandate.

Several residents contended that the root cause of the cat problem in Olcott is a couple of "cat hoarders."

Horanburg denied that the fish-cleaning station at the marina is luring cats. He said the fish entrails go directly to the town sewer plant.