With guidance from the state Department of Environmental Management, the Jamestown Police Department set three traps Wednesday at Fort Wetherill in an attempt to catch stray cats that may be infected with rabies.
The fear that rabies may exist in a feral cat colony believed to be living in the state park stems from a kitten that died last week that tested positive for the disease.
The kitten, believed to be 8 to 10 weeks old, was found injured on a path at Fort Wetherill on Aug. 10. Sgt. Karen Catlow picked up the kitten and had it taken to Newport Animal Hospital, where it had one of its legs amputated. Following the surgery, a Jamestown family adopted it. Soon after, the kitten became ill and was taken to Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, where it was euthanized. Subsequent tests determined it was rabid.
The kitten was friendly and domesticated, according to the family that adopted it. Because of its demeanor, police aren’t sure that the kitten was part of the feral colony – there is a chance it was abandoned in the park. Still, because it had rabies and came from an area where other nonvaccinated cats live, the DEM informed the Police Department to take necessary precautions.
While it’s not known how many feral cats live at Fort Wetherill, Police Chief Ed Mello confirmed that three cats were trapped in July by PawsWatch, a nonprofit group based in Rhode Island. The organization trapped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated the cats. The cats were then “eartipped,” which means removing approximately a quarter inch of the tip of the cat’s left ear in a straight line – it’s considered the universal symbol of a neutered and vaccinated feral cat. Mello said the cats weren’t returned to the wild, but rather adopted by a family that lives in the area.
According to Lt. Angela Denault, if PawsWatch was to release cats back into the wild, since they are spayed and neutered, they can’t have kittens. “The colony dies out because they can’t procreate,” she said.
As for the municipal traps, police will check them twice daily. The first thing to do when a cat is trapped will be to identify if it is domesticated or feral. “Once we get a cat, we will determine if it’s someone’s domestic cat,” said Denault. “If it is, we’ll try to find out who the owner is.”
Said Mello, “The last thing we want to do is capture any domesticated cats. We’ve notified residents in that area. We are asking that they keep their cats and dogs indoors.”
Police will free any wild animals that are trapped. Any feral cat that isn’t eartipped, per DEM protocol, will be euthanized because of the rabies threat. Cats cannot be tested for rabies while still alive.
The Humane Society of Jamestown will hold a rabies clinic on Sept. 29. No time or location has been determined. During Monday’s Town Council meeting, Mello asked the councilors to consider an amnesty period during the clinic that would waive any late fees incurred by residents who haven’t had their dogs licensed. To license a dog, it costs $6 – for dogs not licensed by May, a $25 late fee is added.
During the Sept. 29 rabies clinic, residents will be charged $6 for dogs that missed the April 30 deadline. The $25 will be waived on that day. If for some reason the Town Council votes against the amnesty during its Oct. 15 meeting, residents will be billed the late fee. Mello says the amnesty period is an incentive to entice residents to license their dogs.
“My advice right now is for residents to get their cats, dogs and ferrets vaccinated,” he said. “And don’t feed stray animals.”