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    Feline feedings infuriate Navy

    A civilian employee could be suspended for feeding feral cats, hundreds of which roam the Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

    By J. NEALY-BROWN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 25, 2001


    Ginny Grogoza drives a 1998 Dodge Avenger, and the feral cats at Jacksonville Naval Air Station know it. She's the one with the car that smells like cat food. When she pulls up to the fitness center in the evenings, dinner is a sure thing.

    But when Grogoza, 43, was caught feeding the cats earlier this year, the civilian employee was barred from the base for two weeks and her driving privileges were taken for nearly a month.

    She now is facing the possibility of a two-week suspension from work for violating base rules, which prohibit feeding the wild cats.

    "I can't stand seeing a starving animal," said Grogoza, who owns six dogs and 11 cats -- three that she took off the base. "I've got a soft heart. I can't help it."

    Officials at the military base say Grogoza was springing traps that had been set for the cats and was warned to stop feeding them. But she continued and was caught on videotape.

    The cats, they say, are a health hazard.

    "We're trying to remove the cats (from) here for the safety of the personnel," said Bill Dougherty, a spokesman for the base.

    "We've hired a contractor to come in to trap the cats and turn them over to Duval County Animal Control."

    There are an estimated 200 feral cats on the base. The cats generally flock to places with lots of food or garbage. They are most active at night and generally try to avoid contact with people.

    Grogoza was so enraged when she learned of the policy that she contacted Alley Cat Allies, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group that says there is a gentler way to reduce the feral cat population. Members of the group protested at the naval base last month and have posted an action alert on the group's Web site regarding the policies at Jacksonville NAS and nearby Mayport Naval Station.

    Like many feral advocate groups, Alley Cat Allies encourages a program to trap, neuter or spay and return the cats to the wild. The idea is to let the colony die out by attrition.

    But "it's a rather controversial issue," said Kim Staton, a regional coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States. Some areas expect to see a decline in the number of cats mainly because they have been sterilized. But some areas have seen an increase.

    "You have residents who come on the base, transfer and (leave) them behind," Dougherty said.

    Mayport officials tried to control the base's population by trapping, sterilizing and releasing cats back into the wild. The feral cat population initially went down, from 200 to 130.

    But then the number of cats grew to nearly 800.

    "The problem is, the population of the animals basically outpaced our ability to keep up with that program," said Lt. Commander Kelly Merrell. "Let's be honest: A problem like this gets started by a few irresponsible people dumping their animals."

    Merrell said the cats at Mayport are going to be trapped humanely and turned over to animal control.

    If the cats are not adopted, they will be humanely destroyed.

    Truly feral cats are ineligible for adoption because they would not make good pets. Others can be tamed and adopted.

    The Humane Society has said that trapping, sterilizing and releasing the cats so they don't reproduce is expensive and takes a lot of labor. Plus, people who don't want wild cats running around may be alienated.

    Feral cat population control should include mandatory registration of cats, identification, mandatory rabies vaccination, sterilization of all free-roaming cats and those adopted from shelters and rescue groups, the Humane Society says.

    Military personnel who want to live on base at Jacksonville or Mayport may soon have to insert a microchip into their felines.

    If they leave without taking their cat with them, "we'll know exactly where they are," Dougherty said.

    For now, Grogoza will stop feeding the cats. After her divorce is final, she said, she won't be able to afford to, even if she wasn't being punished. "I'm just disgusted," Grogoza said.

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