February 2014

Tails of Success

Author: Michael Paskevich

The feral cats of Hilton Head are seemingly everywhere, wandering freely outside island homes and businesses, while providing vermin control and stress-relieving visual distractions for locals and visitors alike.
While the roaming animals remain wild and only rarely cotton to human contact, they unknowingly rely on their two-legged friends to prevent overpopulation, epidemics and other problems that could turn a mostly peaceful coexistence into tragedy. True, not everyone is a fan of the free-living felines, but the untamed cats have plenty of nurturing human allies as the critters confront the dangers of existence in the always unpredictable outdoors. And tales, or rather ‘tails,’ of interactive success between species are not out of the question.

“We had some cats in the area hanging out that we were feeding, and after there was a second litter, some of the babies ended up being run over by cars,” said Tracey Mancini, a wedding and events specialist for Celebrations Catering and Events, located off Marshland Road. “I talked to my coworkers, and we had to decide whether to leave them to the wild or help take care of them by getting them fixed,” she said. Mancini and company took action.

“We did some research and a local cat lady told us how to trap them,” Mancini said. The captive cats—“it’s easy to do … just get a carrier ready with food inside and don’t feed them for a day”—were spayed or neutered as needed, and the burgeoning colony nestled between commercial buildings has stabilized to everyone’s relief. Ongoing socialization has led one of the young cats to grow comfortable being handled, and one of Mancini’s coworkers has a nearby relative willing to launch a trial run at turning “Gray” into a household fixture.

“She is still a feral cat, and who knows what will happen,” Mancini noted, “but I firmly believe she is ready for a home. She’s become our social kitty, and she takes eye drops and even gives kisses. I know some people complain about the problem of feral cats but I think it’s our responsibility to help them out.”

Mame Bowser, an accountant at a local magazine (this one actually), tells a similar tale. As one of her two cherished German Shepherds approached death due to hip dysplasia a couple years back, Bowser’s spouse Dan reported hearing the sounds of a baby crying outside their island home. “My first thought was he’d lost his mind, but it’s okay,” Bowser recalled with a laugh. The source of the off-putting sounds was a cat they now call “Sonny Boy,” a roving male with a notch in his ear that indicated he’d already been spayed/neutered before being returned to the wild. “We figured we’d feed him a little bit of tuna fish and he’d eventually move away from our back deck.”

Hardly. Sonny Boy remained nearby, and despite understandable nerves over the ongoing war between cats and dogs, the Bowsers borrowed a carrier from a friend, “tricked him with treats” and took Sonny Boy to a vet for testing and necessary shots. He slowly became comfortable inside the Bowsers’ home and brought them no small amount of joy as their second shepherd slid closer to death due to the same malady caused by profit-minded breeders looking to market animals too large for their natural frames.

“It seems like he just picked us,” Bowser said, “and I think he helped keep our other dog company after losing his brother. It’s opened up a whole new world for us,” she added, noting that the longtime large dog aficionados have a new canine addition who gets on equally well with Sonny Boy. “Cats are a different breed, that’s for sure; he’s still not crazy about being picked up, and he usually just stares at you when you call him. But it’s a privilege to take care of him … you look at that little face and it just steals your heart away.”

Such stories are heartwarming if unusual, and the folks on the frontlines of feral cat control stress that controlling the population remains a high-priority problem. “Daufuskie Island had too many feral cats, and people in the community starting working on a feral program through us about five years ago,” said Franny Gerthoffer, executive director of the private, non-profit Hilton Head Humane Association. “All of their cats were captured, spayed or neutered, and today they are being monitored and accounted for. It took five years of work and community involvement, but there are no longer kittens being born on Daufuskie Island.

“It has worked out very well, and that’s the same goal we have on Hilton Head,” Gerthoffer added. “You just have to keep working at it, and we do rely on the community to help us trap the cats.” Those unwilling to get involved directly, although humane traps are readily available free of charge, can simply pick up the phone and report growing populations to taxpayer-funded Beaufort County Animal Services headed by director Tallulah Trice. Animal control officers will, as time allows, trap the cats and transport them to the county shelter where efforts are made to treat them for health problems, alter them to prevent further breeding and either release them back to the area or ready them for adoption, sometimes in other states with the help of Gerthoffer’s non-profit organization (see accompanying story on page 92).

“They are tested for (feline) AIDS and leukemia, and if they test positive we don’t wake them up,” said Gerthoffer, noting that feral cats continue to be euthanized at the county facility at a far higher rate than their canine counterparts because of a female cat’s capacity to deliver up to four litters in a year.

“Feral cats are still a problem, and our job is to go out and trap the mom to keep her from reproducing,” Trice said. “Otherwise, we’re not addressing the root of the problem.” A healthy and contained feral cat community also has unseen benefits such as reducing the need for using pesticides to control rats, thus putting poison into the local ecosystem which can lead to health woes for area owls and other wildlife. Likewise, the soothing and entertaining sight of cats frolicking independently in the outdoors remains a plus for a majority of humans.

“Would you rather have a customer see a cat or a rat on the deck outside your restaurant?” Trice asked, recalling a restaurateur who asked the county to remove feral cats near his property. “A few weeks later, he started having rat problems and called us again, this time to ask: “Do you have any feral cats available?” 

LETS TALK ABOUT KIBBLE
BY KENT GOCHNAUER

The pet industry is growing stronger than ever, fetching about 50 billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone. A large portion of these sales is pet food. This part of the industry has grown at an incredible pace, and I am contacted a few times a month by dog food manufacturers about new foods on the market. It can be overwhelming to decide which brands to carry at our store as well as what to choose for your own pet, with so many options out there.

I am not a nutritional expert, but there are some basic things that I look for when choosing a pet food to carry at our store. For me, it’s more about what ingredients to avoid. I stay away from foods with any meat by-products, corn, wheat or unspecified animal fat. There are other ingredients I avoid as well, but if a food doesn’t have what I’ve listed above, it usually doesn’t contain the others I watch out for.

I have been fortunate to work with animals every day for the last eight years. We groom about 50 dogs weekly and have approximately 10 dogs boarding with us on a daily basis, as well as a couple of cats. This gives me the added advantage of seeing the benefits of a good diet first hand. If a dog arrives for grooming with bad skin and coat, I’ll ask about its current diet. I’ve often started these customers with a better dog food to help end the skin problems. It’s amazing how many times an improved diet corrects these health issues. We have also seen these benefits with our boarding clients. We sometimes have clients request our nutritional house food to be fed to their pet during their visit. When a dog or cat is fed our nutritional boarding house food, as opposed to a lower quality food at home, we sometimes see an immediate change in the pet’s overall health and behavior. Months, sometimes years, of vet visits for chewing, scratching and hot spots due to food allergies can come to an end. We have had a great success rate by simply changing to a better diet, but some health problems can be environmental or from other issues.

We encourage anyone with diet concerns to come in to our store and find the right food for your dog or cat. It really can make a difference!

Kent Gochnauer is owner and operator of All About Pets, located at 130 Arrow Rd. on Hilton Head Island. For more information, visit allaboutpetshhi.com or call (843) 842-7387.

EINSTEIN’S STORY
We’ve all been there, where 278 and 170 intersect. We’ve all been there in the pouring rain and glanced at the ditches to the left and right while thinking about the next item on our “to do” list. Here is where the story changes.

On September 25, 2013 a Good Samaritan glanced over and spotted a 95-pound Mastiff mix lying in the ditch. She pulled over and immediately ran to check on the dog. Two other complete strangers pulled over and ran to check on the dog. Let’s backtrack: pouring rain, 95-pound Mastiff!

They discovered a matted, tick covered, shivering, barely alive dog. Teamwork prevailed, and all three people lifted this gentle giant into one of their cars and made the frantic call that happens all too often to Franny Gerthoffer, executive director at the Hilton Head Humane Association. Within moments, “Einstein” arrived at HHHA’s door. The staff wrapped him in blankets until he was warm. He was quickly transported to the intake area and given a large soft bed to rest his tired body. Everyone marveled at his sweet demeanor and desire to be petted. The medical team assessed Einstein and discovered that he had a very serious systemic infection. He also tested positive for heartworms. The dog trainer came in and deemed Einstein “very affectionate.”

HHHA will be treating (and loving) this big guy for a while. When he is “well,” we will send him on his way to a new life, and once again we will be amazed at the resilience of animals and what they can teach us all about unconditional love. 

The Hilton Head Humane Association is located at 10 Humane Way on Hilton Head Island. For more information, call (843) 681-8686.

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