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Feral cat problem gives biz ‘paws’

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The stray cats at Wilderness Presidential Resorts in Spotsylvania County seem to have it pretty good—maybe too good, depending on whom you ask.

They have a reliable source of food at six or seven feeding stations throughout the 620-acre campground.

In fact, Wilderness employees built those cat cafeterias, which resemble small log cabins to blend in with the rustic setting.

But General Manager Allan King fears the campground has become a dumping ground for stray cats. He’s received complaints and worries that an unvaccinated feline could contract rabies and spread the disease to a child.

“You kind of sit back in your chair and say what am I gaining from this?” King said.

So he sent a letter earlier this month to Joan Enoch, a self-proclaimed “feral cat advocate” who owns a trailer lot at Wilderness, calling for “fundamental change” to the setup.

Enoch contacted The Free Lance–Star to complain about the situation, saying the letter came from left field.

“I have done a lot of work there, and I’ve kept this colony managed,” said Enoch, who runs Country Cats Rescue.

What especially bothered her was King’s plan to stop supplying food to the cats effective May 17.

“I will not tolerate cruelty to any animal, much less to the resort’s sterilized feral cat population—cats that I have spent so much time and effort caring for over the last decade,” Enoch wrote back to King.

The campground has since withdrawn the food ban.

Since August 2005, Enoch has overseen a program in which strays at Wilderness are trapped to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered. She returns the felines to the campground after they have been sterilized.

The U.S. Humane Society says this trap-and-return method is the best way to reduce feral cat colonies.

Over a four-year period, Enoch says she has personally trapped 91 cats and adopted out 31 of them. The Humane Society and Wilderness Presidential Resorts have donated thousands of dollars to have the animals treated.

Despite those efforts, King says the cat population has increased over the years as people continue to drop off felines. He says about 50 strays—a mix of feral cats and domestic cats that have been abandoned—call the campground home, and he’d like to see that number cut in half.

Last week, a Free Lance–Star reporter and photographer saw about five cats—no more than two at a time—as Enoch checked the resort’s feeding stations, all of which had food.

Several cats emerged from the woods as Enoch approached.

“There you are,” she said to one. “How’s my man?”

It’s unclear what measures Wilderness will take to reduce the cat population, though King says he won’t have them trapped and killed.

The nonprofit Alley Cat Allies of Bethesda, Md., became involved after receiving a call from Enoch, and King says the group has been helpful.

“We’ve got to find a partner that’s going to work with us and not bash us at every corner,” said King. He has called Spotsylvania Animal Control and plans to have a meeting with Enoch on how to proceed.

Aileen Walden, interim director of community programs for Alley Cat Allies, says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the future of cats at Wilderness.

“We find nine times out of 10 that if you can bring a calm, objective voice to the table, you can work things out to everyone’s advantage,” she said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402