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Feline friend leaving food for cats around downtown area

BERLIN– A rogue cat lover has been plaguing area businesses for more than a year.
Several shops in downtown Berlin complained that someone has been feeding stray cats in the area behind their stores, leaving cans of cat food and tuna fish and drawing unwelcome pests in the process.
Church Mouse Coordinator Helen Wiley said the problem has been ongoing for at least 12 months.
“It’s escalated to the point where a dead kitten – or some kind of animal – was in our alleyway three weeks ago,” she said.
Wiley said she reported the incident to the police and Public Works came to remove the animal.
“Two days later we found, coming out of the Church Mouse, a can of tuna fish with two maggots on it,” she said. “In the winter they had a cardboard box for the cats in our alleyway. I understand the humane part of it – wanting to take care of the animals – but when it gets into the fact that there’s maggots because of canned tuna fish to feed the animals near the local businesses it becomes a problem.”
Wiley was also concerned about the possibility of drawing rabid animals to the area.
“In Pittsville there was a rabies cat they’ve found,” she said. Wiley also speculated that a case had occurred near downtown Berlin. “It’s been more than a year that it’s been going on,” she said. “Having open cans of food everywhere is not good.”
Wiley hung two signs in the alley behind the Church Mouse last week. One read, “Please do not feed cats in this area!” Another read, “Attention! Please do not feed cans of tuna etc. to any animal in this alley – we are cleaning up maggots and bugs from leftover food and cans.”
“As of yesterday they were no cans in the alleyway, so the sign seems to be working,” Wiley said.
For an alley, the area sees a considerable amount of traffic.
“I go back in that area daily,” Wiley said. “I have containers that are going to be recycled to Good Will, and there are apartments back there, so people are coming and going.”
Wiley said the problem has thus far remained outdoors.
“Nothing has ever gotten into the stores or inside the buildings,” she said. “It’s just really been an outside problem in the alleyway – but it’s just too close for comfort.”
Lt. Jeffrey Lawson of the Berlin Police Department confirmed a recent suspected rabies case, but said the animal was tested and found not to be infected.
“We have had several cases where we have had raccoons and groundhogs over the last 12 months or so, but nothing downtown to my knowledge,” he said. “The last case we had was pretty far from downtown.”
Janet Tull, rabies coordinator for the Worcester County Health Department, said the last suspected rabies case in Berlin occurred on July 9.
“We received a call about an abnormally behaving raccoon out on the Little League field, and that the police department shot the raccoon and requested testing for it,” she said. “It tested negative for rabies.”
Rabies cases have been on the rise in Worcester County. Last year the Health Department reported 46 confirmed cases, up from 19 the previous year.
Tull cautioned against feeding stray animals.
“We never know where the next call is going to be,” she said. “We definitely have active rabies in the county, and anyone that is feeding cats is required to vaccinate them – the law requires whoever the owner or custodian of the animals are is the legal owner, and both county and state law requires vaccinations.
“County law requires that all dogs and cats be licensed, and if you tolerate an animal on your property for over two weeks, you’re the owner,” Tull continued.
The county can give civil citations for unlicensed animals. County health laws can also apply in the case of stray animals.
“If you feed them you are responsible for their vaccinations,” Tull said. “The laws and regulations require that – if you are the custodian of a dog, cat or ferret – you are required to get that animal its vaccinations and to keep them current.”
Twenty four cases of rabies were reported in cats in Maryland last year. The most recent case in the state occurred last week in Wicomico County.
“The standard to reduce the risk of rabies in the community is to not leave pet food outside,” Tull said. “It’s a fatal disease (for animals), and cats are the number one domestic animal that contracts rabies. We don’t want to make people unnecessarily fearful, but there are strategies and things that people can do to lessen risks, and one of the primary things is to vaccinate. It’s not an option. A lot of pet care is option, but rabies vaccination is not.”
For more information call the Worcester County Health Department at 410-632-1100 or visit