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Wednesday June 3rd, 2015 9:47AM

Helen dealing with feral cat problem

By Rob Moore Reporter
HELEN - The feet of thousands of visitors are not the only ones walking the sidewalks of Helen every week.

Georgia's Alpine Village is struggling with a feral cat problem.

Recently, the city commission heard concerns from those in town about the growing feline problem, and the resulting waste issues.

"I'm tired of walking in feral cat crap, I'm tired of smelling it," one man who lives in Helen told the commission. "I'm tired of seeing little children pull up in the parking lots and squat down in the dirt and play in feral cat crap."

The man said the underlying problem lies with businesspeople and visitors alike, many of whom feed the animals. A few even harbor them, he said.

"I think that the people that feed these cats ought to at least have the gumption to have them neutered, to have their shots, and make sure that the children that come here are protected from them," the man said. "I see no end to the number of cats. You can go around this town on Sunday morning and photograph 50 of them."

Commissioners recently spent considerable time discussing the problem.

"They don't belong to anybody - most of them," said Commissioner Dona K. Burke. "In my yard, there are four and I can't keep them out of my yard. They come out of the woods."

Burke asked what can be done about the problem.

City Manager Jerry Elkins said the city checked about being able to trap the cats, but ran into a roadblock.

Police Chief Jim Couch said White County Animal Control doesn't trap feral cats now.

"The problem they had in Helen was that when they set the traps out, people would actually take the traps, destroy the traps because they were feeding the cats and didn't want anybody to take the cats away," Couch said. "They said they will not get into that cat trapping anymore."

Burke asked if the city could trap the cats, or bring in animal control personnel from another county to trap them.

That presents another dilemma for the city.

"What do you do with the cats?" Couch said. "If you outright kill the cats, I think the public - there is going to be outcry about that."

Burke interrupted.

"Most of them are wild cats," she said. "They were born out in the woods and they've never been around humans as far as a human touching them. They are wild cats."

"I understand," Couch said.

Elkins said one problem is the animal shelter will not accept the feral cats if caught.

"There's got to be an answer," Burke said. "We can't be overrun by feral cats. It's going to worsen."

Commissioner Judy Holloway said two ladies involved with animal rescue have caught some of the cats and had them fixed.

"They contribute to the problem as well," Holloway said.

A few years back, the city caught dozens of feral cats, but at that time they could take them to the animal shelter.

"We can catch 'em, because we caught 40, 50 or 60 of them a few years back," Elkins said.

The problem lies in the cats being fed, the man asserted.

"If you don't feed them, they'll go away," the man said. "People should be fined if they're caught feeding these feral cats."

A merchant from Whitehorse Square said she can give away the kittens, but that doesn't resolve the ongoing problem.

"But it still doesn't address the problem of the mother, who will continue to spit out litters - and I can't catch her to save my soul," the merchant said. "Some of us are trying, on an individual basis, to take care of this, but it's hard."

Currently, the animals are more of a nuisance, but there is a fear they could become a danger.

"These children try to catch them, and they will be able to once one of them has got rabies or is sick or something," the man said.

Commissioners expressed concerns that White County Animal Control will not handle nuisance animals in the city, leaving city officials trying to figure what to do with the cats.

"It's always been what do we do with them if we get 'em," Elkins said.

Commissioner Jeff Ash asked Elkins to send a memo to restaurant owners urging them not to feed cats.

Holloway said some of the businesses are housing the wild cats.

"There is an odor out there as well," Holloway said. "Kids walk all the way back there to get to [Mayor Lynn Whitener's] parking lot, and they're always trying to catch the cats, and I'm afraid somebody's going to get hurt."

Whitener also addressed the issue.

"We just want to bring to the attention of the commission and the others interested that we have problems with animals," Whitener said. "We may have to hire somebody that is a trapper and let them come in and take care of the problem. This is something we can work on to make the city better."

Whitener discussed his parking lot, which is located behind the Marketplatz.

"On my parking lot, the cats come down and use it for their bathroom, and every morning I go through with my shovel picking up piles of cat," Whitener said. "Kids step in it, and kids play in it."
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