(Photo/Ernest A. Brown)
WOONSOCKET â€“ A colony of feral cats near St. Germain Manor is creating problems for the owners of the high-rise â€“ and heartache for at least one of its tenants.
The Woonsocket Housing Authority says itâ€™s worried that the cats are creating a health hazard for more than 150 tenants of the high-rise, including some who live in the new assisted living wing.
Duncan Speel, the deputy director, says the WHA was forced to order an 82-year-old woman who lives in the high-rise to stop feeding the cats recently.
â€śWe canâ€™t let her jeopardize the quality of life for 152 other people who live in the facility,â€ť says Speel. â€śItâ€™s more than a bad condition â€“ it could present a serious health hazard if one of these cats has rabies.â€ť
Speel said the woman has been feeding the cats for years, but lately some of the newer tenants have begun complaining about odors from feces and urine in a sitting area behind the high rise. The tenants have a right to a more pleasant, sanitary atmosphere, he said.
Speel said officials are also worried that cat food leftovers will attract rats or other vermin.
After repeated verbal warnings, Speel said the woman was sent â€śa cure letterâ€ť recently. He said itâ€™s not an eviction notice, but basically a written request telling her that she has 30 days to stop feeding the cats.
Speel said he doesnâ€™t know how the housing authority will respond if she fails to comply, but he expressed certainty that the agency would never press for the eviction of an octogenarian.
â€śIf she stops feeding the cats sheâ€™s got no problem,â€ť he said.
Gail Desmarais, a volunteer with the Woonsocket Cat Sanctuary, said the woman called the nonprofit adoption group and asked them to trap the cats and euthanize every one.
â€śShe wanted us to trap and euthanize them because she couldnâ€™t stand to see them starve to death,â€ť said Desmarais. â€śThatâ€™s something we do not do. Weâ€™re just a private, no-kill shelter of volunteers who are trying to deal with all the domesticated cats that are abandoned.â€ť
Desmarais said this is not the first time sheâ€™s heard about a colony of feral cats â€“ one of many in the city â€“ that ranges from the grounds of St. Germain Manor to Mechanic Street, a couple of blocks away. The area abuts weed-strewn lots and a large swath of neglected World War II Veterans Memorial State Park, making it prime habitat for free-range, wild cats.
Once entrenched, Desmarais says a colony of feral cats is impossible to relocate. Left unchecked, the population of such a colony can explode exponentially in very little time because female cats are sexually mature at six months old.
The best way of keeping the population in check is by trapping the cats to be spayed or neutered by a veterinarian and then returning them to the area where they were caught, Desmarais and other experts say.
Exactly how many cats are at issue in the St. Germain situation is unclear, but Desmarais said it could be as few as a dozen.
The cityâ€™s animal control division works with a group of volunteers who are active in so-called trap-and-release programs, but funds are limited, according to officials. A group of volunteers for a nonprofit known as PawsWatch is currently operating on a small grant provided by Petco.
The Call contacted the woman who received the warning from the WHA, but she was so frightened about losing her apartment she asked that the paper not write a story about the cat problem at all.
She acknowledged that she has given up feeding the cats, but sheâ€™s not very happy about it. She doesnâ€™t even want to go outside anymore because sheâ€™s afraid the hungry cats are going to come looking for her.
â€śThe minute I show my face, theyâ€™re right there,â€ť she said. â€śIâ€™m going to miss those cats, believe me.â€ť
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo