By Kelly Young

They are everywhere. Stray animals have become so abundant in the unincorporated sections of Cherokee County they can be found on nearly every acre of land from Bullard to Wells. When left to fend for themselves, stray animals often become feral, and lose the ability to be reintegrated into human society.

With little the authorities can do to stop the problem, and with more and more animals being added to the animal shelter population each day, the overcrowding is expected to get worse before it gets better.

“Close to 50 percent of the animals that have currently been coming to us are unadoptable either because of health or temperament issues. We’re getting a lot of ferals in right now, and unfortunately, because we can’t hold on to them if they are unadoptable, the end result is euthanasia,” said Angela Wallace, shelter supervisor for the Klein Animal Shelter in Jacksonville. “The temperamentally unsound animals are not safe to release back into society so we end up having to euthanize them. We hold all animals that we receive, whether they look owned not, for three to five days so that we can observe them and identify the animals that we can bring back.”

According to Wallace, the observation period is necessary because some strays are so frightened they will act feral when they really aren’t.

“We had a Chihuahua that came in from the city of Tyler just the other day that acted totally feral when they first brought it in — it went after the staff several times. However, once we got him here and worked with him for three days, he is a great adoptable dog now,” she said.

With the exception of particularly healthy feral cats — which can be transferred to other locations — Wallace said all the feral animals the shelter receives are put down.

In order to survive stray animals will, on occasion, band together to form feral colonies, Wallace said. Although reports are infrequent, feral dog colonies have been known to attack people and livestock herds.

Wallace said many feral colonies begin as pet litters dumped by the side of the road.

“The ones that do survive through their first year end up not trusting people because people aren’t nice to strays. This is especially true in feral cat colonies where the animals interbreed and they have no contact with people,” Wallace said. “Once they become feral, these animals will never be able to function well with humans. A feral animal won’t necessarily act viciously, but when put in a new environment with new people and new noises, there’s no telling how they will react.”

According to Chief Deputy Keith Radcliff of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, Texas landowners may only shoot an animal on their property if it is actively endangering the landowners or their property.

“If a dog is just cutting across your property, you don’t have the legal right to shoot it. However, you do have the right to protect yourself, or your property, from injury,” he said. “When people call and ask us we never advise them to kill the animal, but we can’t fully know the circumstances. People should only resort to killing the animal when you are in fear of getting hurt.”

Texans tend to be trigger-happy, Wallace said, choosing to terminate the animal themselves far more often than is legal.

“Unfortunately we get a lot of people that will just shoot any animal on their property for no reason — especially when they find out that they would have to pay something to bring it in to the shelter,” Wallace said. “We are hoping that through outreach and through low-cost spay and neuter programs that we can eliminate a lot of that behavior out in the county.”

The best way to combat the rising stray animal population, she said, is by sterilizing the animals.

“If you’ve got an animal at your home that you aren’t using for breeding purposes, spay or neuter it — that’s the best thing we can do to fight these colonies in the county,” she said. “If these animals can’t breed, they won’t continue to form colonies and make more of a problem out there. The problem won’t exist if we can eliminate it at the beginning.”

To assist the animal shelter, Cherokee County commissioners allocated $15,000 in this year’s budget, which will most likely be used to decrease the cost to citizens when they drop off an animal to the shelter. But Wallace said even if the county instituted a full-scale animal control program, it wouldn’t solve the stray animal problem until unwanted litters are no longer being introduced into the wild.

“Nothing is going to eliminate the problem as long as animals continue to be produced — that’s why spaying and neutering are so important. You can go down any road in the county, on any given day, and I guarantee that you are going to see at least one or two cats or dogs. This will never stop until we can end the production of those animals to begin with,” Wallace said.

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