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Opossums replace feral cats as town’s top prowlers

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Ten years after the town embarked on a program to control feral cats, there is still a sizeable feline population on Pawleys Island, but it’s a stable population, according to the island property owner who has taken charge of the program.

This is the third year that Nancy Kay has been trapping feral cats for the town. They are neutered using what remains of a $10,000 anonymous gift the town received in 2006 to start a trap-neuter-release program.

Most of the cats that find their way into the wire mesh traps are ones that have been through the program and have a notch in one ear to prove it. “What people don’t see is all the raccoons and opossums,” said Kay, who catches more of them than she does cats. “They are living in and around the houses.”

She took over the program from the St. Frances Animal Shelter, which did the trapping and neutering in the first year of the grant. Kay had trapped feral cats around her mid-island home for years. She now has eight cats that live on the property.

There was concern that the trap-neuter-release program would encourage people to dump unwanted cats on the island. But Kay said the resident population of neutered cats has prevented others from coming into the area.

The neutered cats are also less aggressive and cause fewer problems, she said.

“I think the town made the best solution,” Kay said.

She believes that the cats get the blame for problems caused by raccoons and opossums, such as rummaging through trash cans.

“A lot of people feel strongly that they should be gotten rid of,” Kay said. “Everything is here for a reason; there’s good and bad in everything.”

She hears complaints, and puts out traps in problem areas, but said she has only seen one new cat: a female with a kitten that was adopted by someone who lived off the island.

“There are a lot of cats, but it takes a while for them to live out their lives,” Kay said.

Feral cats who are cared for by humans can live up to 15 years, according to the Feral Cat Project, a nonprofit that promotes trap-neuter-release.

“I don’t say we’ll get rid of them all,” Kay said. “They do keep the snakes and the rats down.”

For people who don’t want feral cats around their property, she recommends using motion sensors to activate water sprinklers.

But Kay also hopes that property owners will adopt some of the neutered cats.

As for opossums and raccoons, Kay takes them off the island for release. But even then she suspects that they are finding their way back to Pawleys Island.

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