Carson City has a cat problem, feral and wanderers |

Carson City has a cat problem, feral and wanderers

by Barry Ginter

Of all the ways to start your day, finding a dead cat in your front yard is solidly in the bottom tier of preference. But that’s what Marianne Tucker saw as she pulled out of her driveway on Fifth Street just before 8 a.m. on Thursday.

Upsetting? Oh yes, especially for an animal lover. Her own cat was upset that morning, whining noisily inside their house, and Tucker thinks it’s because she sensed the dead cat outside.

The cat had been struck by a car the night before, and someone had dragged it into the yard. That’s insensitive, to say the least, Tucker said. She’s also not happy that when she called Animal Services on Thursday night when she learned about the dead cat in the road, no one would come out to pick it up until morning.

That’s something that she and Animal Services will just have to agree to disagree about – since the city department will continue to reserve those nighttime emergency calls for reports of aggressive or injured animals.

But it is interesting what Tucker and the Animal Services employees do agree on – there’s a cat problem in Carson City.

Specifically, there are many stray, or feral, cats, along with another population from homes where the owners let them roam free. Feral cats are the wild offspring of domestic cats, which people often abandon.

There’s no way to tell how many cats prowl Carson City’s neighborhoods at night, but it’s certainly in the hundreds or higher.

In 2006, Animal Services euthanized 281 cats, most of which were feral and live-trapped after people complained they were causing problems, including defecating in their yards and killing birds.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Animal Services Supervisor Pat Wiggins. “There are probably hundreds or thousands more in Carson City that you never see.”

Worse, he’s certain the feral population is growing, and says there are no simple or quick solutions.

What’s wrong with a large population of feral cats? For one thing, they’re often great hunters, to the detriment of bird populations. For another, they can carry diseases such as rabies. And, lastly, there’s no real way to hold the population in check, as cats are prolific breeders.

There are several organizations nationwide working on behalf of feral cats, and they describe a miserable existence for the felines that usually ends in violent deaths from predators, or a slow death from starvation and illness.

In some communities, groups trap feral cats then spay or neuter them before releasing them again. But no one’s doing that here yet, and even if they were, it would take a while for it to have an impact on the feral cat population.

That black-and-white cat left in the Tuckers’ front yard was probably a feral cat. It had no collar, and no one claimed it. Marianne has sympathy. She wouldn’t want her cat to meet a similar fate, which is why she keeps it indoors. There are coyotes, hawks, dogs and cars out there, she says.

If it’s a normal week, that cat will be one of at least a half-dozen that Animal Control officers pick up.

Wiggins is hopeful people will learn to take greater responsibility for their pets. But even those who don’t own pets can help out.

The city’s animal shelter, which is always at capacity, has some volunteers, but needs more to exercise the animals, and maybe even become foster families for them. The people who work at the shelter – animal lovers all – already have homes full of pets (for Wiggins, that included three cats, three dogs and other assorted creatures, including turtles, ducks and geese).

If you’re interested, you can visit the shelter, at 3770 Butti Way, which is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or call 887-2171.

Here’s another reason to stop by. The shelter will hold an open house on Saturday for its new cat room, during which adoption for adult cats will be free (it usually costs $60).

You can also look at many of the animals at the shelter from the comfort of your computer by going to the Web site Then just type in the ZIP code 89701, and you’ll get a list of the dogs up for adoption. I challenge you to look into the sad eyes of Ginny, a pit bull terrier mix, and not say, “Aaaaawwww!”


Animal Services employees have a lot of responsibilities, chief among them operating the shelter and adopting out about 1,200 pets each year. But other major duties include capturing animals that are running loose and, of course, picking up dead animals.

One task Wiggins dreads is the barking-dog complaints, which sometime come in at a rate of 10 per day. They often involve mediating disputes between neighbors who could have solved the problem just by talking to each other.

The answers inevitably are keeping pets inside or using bark collars, but Wiggins said obedience training for puppies will also teach them to bark less.

• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. Contact him at 881-1221 or