Cat sanctuary, kennel raises questions for county

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Shelby County is home to more than just people. Scattered among the roughly 150,000 people are dozens of colonies of feral cats, an unfortunate by-product of human habitation.

As Shelby County’s animal control officer, Donald Kendrick knows the nooks and crannies of Shelby County as well as anybody. He can tell you where the ridges and valleys meet, and he knows where the county’s feral cat colonies live.

He also can tell you where to find the rare individuals, known as hoarders or collectors, who take it upon themselves to adopt and care for these abandoned animals.

There’s the cat lady in Montevallo, and a cat man on Highway 280. Another man off of Highway 119 used to keep more than 40 cats until Kendrick confiscated about 23 of them.

Kendrick has removed 70 cats from a single home. On other occasions, he removed 22 and 17 cats from the same home.

&uot;That’s not all of them, either,&uot; he said.

Stray cats are a seemingly endless problem for Shelby County’s one-man animal control department. In September, he picked up 62 cats.

&uot;I can go back to the same spots and get 62 more,&uot; he said.

For some people, taking care of homeless cats is a part of life, and with an abundance of feral cats in rural counties such as Shelby County, they don’t have a problem finding them.

&uot;They’re going to take care of the cats. That’s all they care about,&uot; Kendrick said. &uot;You have to understand-these are cat people.&uot;

A new cat sanctuary in the county has caught the attention of the Shelby County Commission.

The Save Our Strays cat sanctuary sits upon 21 acres of farmland with nine mobile buildings. Seven of those buildings are for the hundreds of cats expected to live at the haven; the other two are for the caretakers who look after the animals.

Save Our Strays is a no-kill shelter. Cats are not euthanized. Instead, they are cared for in hopes of finding adoptive homes to take them in. If not, the cats remain at the shelter.

The nonprofit group operates primarily on money from individuals who work with the group and from donations.

Kate Stembridge bought the property and works with the Save Our Strays organization. She bought the property specifically for the cat sanctuary. Stembridge said she chose the rural, 21-acre property to avoid problems with neighbors and others.

She said she had to write about 50 letters to neighbors and commissioners explaining her intentions before she opened the sanctuary.

Currently, the sanctuary houses about 20 cats. She said up to 200 could eventually live at the sanctuary. The cats either roam in a half-acre, fenced-in area or live in the trailers set up for their comfort. No cats roam free, she said.

&uot;They’re happy there. There’s nothing chasing them,&uot; Stembridge said. &uot;They know they’re going to get fed everyday.&uot;

The property for the shelter is zoned for agricultural use, which permits kennels. Commissioner Don Armstrong of Wilsonville has asked the commission to consider its policies regarding kennels. Right now, he said there is no clear definition of what a kennel is.

&uot;We have no regulations for this,&uot; Armstrong said.

At Armstrong’s request, county staff members looked into the Save Our Strays organization and sent Kendrick out to inspect the cat sanctuary. Kendrick said he saw no neglect or other problems.

&uot;They’re just as fat and happy as can be,&uot; he said.

The county has no regulations about the number of animals allowed at any kennel, as long as the animals are taken care of, Kendrick said.

&uot;I don’t know of anything to prohibit this operation,&uot; he said.

Cat sanctuaries are a new response to feral and stray cats, according to Kendrick. Researchers discovered that spay and neuter programs were sometimes ineffective and the sanctuaries have become another solution, he said.

&uot;The feral cat colonies are all over the place. These caught on as an alternative to euthanizing them,&uot; he said. &uot;These sanctuaries just provide the cats a place to be.&uot;

Kendrick said he understands the compassion that causes a person to care for homeless cats.

&uot;I have a lot of respect for them. They’re trying to save an animal’s life,&uot; he said