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Woman takes action to help regulate feral cats

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The creation of a citywide "Trap-Neuter-Return" program in Charleston has been a frequent topic since a proposed ordinance regulating cats first surfaced earlier this month.

But some Charleston residents have already taken it upon themselves to start small-scale TNR operations — and they say it's paying off.

In South Hills, one such resident has been trapping, neutering and releasing cats for the past two years, and has made a significant dent in her neighborhood's feral cat population.

"It's very easy to do," said Debbie Cobb, who started trapping the cats about two years ago. "It just takes patience."

Last year, Cobb caught 22 cats, and so far this year, she's caught 18 in the area around the home she shares with her husband, Ron.

In Cobb's neighborhood, the feral cat problem started about a decade ago, she said, when a woman living at the end of Locust Road moved and left behind an empty house and a cat.

It didn't take long for the cat to find other felines in the area and begin reproducing. Soon, the neighborhood was overrun.

"We had over 40, almost 50 cats," Cobb said.

The empty house became a breeding ground, and the growing colony took over the end of Locust Road.

"They were becoming a nuisance," Cobb said. "Something had to be done."

But being a cat lover herself, Cobb couldn't bear the thought of the cats meeting their demise by human hands, so she decided to tackle the problem herself.

In this method, feral cats are humanely trapped, taken to a veterinarian to be sterilized and then released back into the neighborhood. The process helps trip up and stop the reproductive cycle of the cat colony.

"I knew if I didn't try to catch some of those cats . . . people would be resorting to killing the cats," she said.

So Cobb made her way to Green's Feed and Seed, where she bought four traps. She set the traps in areas of the neighborhood the cats frequented, like the end of Locust Road.

The traps don't harm the animals. A small amount of food (Cobb uses tuna) is placed inside. The cat's weight triggers the trap, closing the entrance.

Cobb covers the trap with a towel to reduce the stress on the animal before driving the cat to Valley West Veterinary Hospital, where she pays the cost to neuter or spay the cat out of her own pocket.

Neutering a male cat costs about $75, and spaying a female runs about $120. That doesn't include any additional services.

Fortunately, she said, Valley West is letting her pay the costs over an extended period, making the venture a bit more affordable.

After the procedure, Cobb releases the adult cats back into forested areas in the neighborhood. It takes longer to release the females because they have stitches that need to be removed.

In the meantime, those cats stay with a neighbor, whom Cobb said is essential to her venture.

"I couldn't keep all the cats here," she said with a laugh.

Cobb usually has luck finding people to provide feral kittens with homes. Unlike feral adults, feral kittens are easy to tame.

"I've been really lucky on feral kittens," she said. "They're really easy to adopt out."

All of Cobb's hard work is paying off. Since she started trapping cats on her own, the colonies' numbers have started to decrease.

"Now, it's dwindled down to almost nothing," she said.

Cobb's work was aided by the demolition of the abandoned home on Locust Road and another abandoned home in the area. She thanked Councilman Courtney Persinger for helping in that respect.

Persinger mentioned Cobb's work at Charleston City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee meeting on Sept. 9, at which committee members voted to table a controversial ordinance that put regulations on felines.

"Without Mrs. Cobb, I'd hate to think what our problems would be like," he said.

Cobb has seven cats of her own — four indoor and three outdoor. Cobb said she has the space and the resources to care for the animals, but added if a person has more cats than they can handle, "it's not fair to the cat, and it's not fair to the neighbors."

Cobb was at the Ordinance and Rules Committee meeting to speak against the cat ordinance as it was presented. She does favor some kind of regulation, though.

"I do like to see an ordinance in place," she said. "But you've got to be logical about it.

"When you start having over 20 cats, that's a problem," she said.

Cobb said she's willing to help others start their own versions of a TNR program and frequently loans her traps out.

"People just have to take responsibility," she said.

But above all, Cobb cautions against blaming the cats for causing a nuisance in neighborhoods.

"It's not the cats' fault," she said. "They have feelings, too."

Contact writer Matt Murphy at or 304-348-4817.


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