A Secure Investment

A woman with glasses holding a cat, looking at another cat standing on a scratch post in a room with other cats.
Liz Kimbell has been rescuing abandoned cats for several years. She is looking to expand beyond her South Meadowcroft Avenue home.

ennsylvania has a law prohibiting dogs from roaming free, but no such regulation is in place for cats. While some municipalities have ordinances prohibiting cats from roaming free, Mt. Lebanon does not. Regardless, providing your pet with easy means of identification could make the difference between a few anxious hours and never seeing it again.

“We find that a lot of dogs that are running at large don’t have collars or tags, and it makes it that much harder to get those dogs back home,” said Rob Fredley, animal control supervisor.

South Hills Cooperative Animal Control (SHCAC) handles lost pets, unwanted wildlife intrusions and other creature-related issue. With headquarters in Mt. Lebanon and a kennel in Upper St. Clair, the six-person staff’s coverage area also includes Baldwin Borough, Dormont, Scott Township, Green Tree, Whitehall, Castle Shannon, Heidelberg, Carnegie, Rosslyn Farms, Baldwin Township, Pennsbury Village and Bethel Park.  Officers will try to get the animals out of your house if they’re in living areas, but they can’t go into attics or up on a ladder.

From the South Hills Cooperative Animal Control Facebook page:

* Bethel Park, we need your assistance finding the owners of this female dog. She was found on Library Road near South Park borderline. No collar or microchip.
* Upper St. Clair, we need your assistance finding this cat’s owner. She was found on Rose Circle and is wearing a collar but does not have a chip.

* Baldwin Borough, this young male dog was found at Colewood Park off of Brownsville Road. A good samaritan picked him up but he does not have a microchip.

UPDATE: No owner has come forward. East Coast Bulldog Rescue will be taking him in for placement.

* Baldwin Township, we need your assistance. This female cat was found on Queensboro Avenue. She is friendly but does not have a microchip.

UPDATE: No owner came forward. Thank you Fur All Kittys for taking her in for adoption!

If you have an animal issue, call 911. Normal business hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 7 to 3 on weekends and holidays. If your after-hours call is urgent, dispatchers will send police.

SHCAC also administers a lost pet section on its Facebook page. If you would like SHCAC to post a missing pet poster, email the details, including name and last known location of the pet, to shcac@mtlebanon.org.

The Cooperative’s Upper St. Clair kennel has only seven cages, so they can’t keep lost animals indefinitely, and the kennels don’t sit empty for long.

“We have 175,264 citizens in our 50-plus square mile coverage area,” said Fredley.

Some areas in the South Hills have seen a spike in the number of unattended cats and kittens. “Community cats” are cats that do not have a home or an owner, but receive food and water from people in the neighborhood. According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 10 to 12 percent of the population are feeding community cats.

“We’re a civil society,” said Fredley. “We’re not only taking care of each other, we’re taking care of animals. We’re not going to go out and round up every animal that’s running at large and euthanize it.”

But Fredley says just putting a bowl of kibble on your porch isn’t enough.

A collection of photos, A black cat being bathed, two black cats in a crate looking at the photographer, a cat being given an eye dropper medicine, and donations including a pet cam, toys and medication.
Spaying and neutering of “community cats,” cats who live outside with no owners, greatly reduces the number of litters of kittens found in abandoned areas. Kimbell’s cat rescue efforts are aided by donations from individuals and from Petco in Bethel Park.

“You have to control the population,” he said. “If not, instead of seeing one cat in your neighborhood, you’re seeing five, and that can easily turn into 20 or 30.”

We do not pick up or trap community cats,” he continued. “If someone calls about a cat roaming their area, we try to obtain enough information to see if this is a community cat or someone’s domesticated cat. We try to educate as much as we can, but unfortunately it can be difficult for some people to tell the difference. Unfortunately, some people still let their domesticated cats roam free.”

As the number expands, overpopulation can lead to intermixed breeding, Fredley says, which results in kittens with birth defects. The best way to control the community cat population is to call an organization that can assist with trapping the cats, neutering or spaying them, making sure they’re not carrying any communicable diseases, and then returning them to their surroundings.

Liz Kimbell and her husband, Ben Shulman, have been rescuing cats in their South Meadowcroft Avenue home for five or six years.

“I used to be a web developer with a hobby of cat rescuing,” Kimbell said with a smile. “Now I’m a cat rescuer with a hobby of web development.”

Before they began rescuing cats, Kimbell and Shulman were taking in senior cats who didn’t have anyplace to go, to give them a good life in their final years. An incident in their backyard led them to rescuing.

“Within a few months of us being here, we heard a very violent cat fight,” said Kimbell. “About a week later, a gray and white cat we had been familiar with showed up with an open abcess on his neck.”

Kimbell and Shulman trapped the cat and took him to a feral-friendly cat clinic, where the vets cleaned and treated his wound, neutered him and gave him back, to be released back into the neighborhood, where he remains. It turned out someone in the neighborhood had been feeding him, but wasn’t able to provide any more care.

Shortly after that, one of Kimbells coworkers found a kitten in a flooded window well in their basement. Word got around, and now she says she and Ben rescue at least 30 cats a year, and sometimes the number is as high as 50. Currently, they are fostering 12 rescues. “The need kept popping up,” she said. “It’s pretty much a full-time job.”

A man kneeling down and a dog standing on its hind legs about to lick his face.
South Hills Animal Control Supervisor Rob Fredley cannot stress enough the importance of collars, tags and microchips to make it easier to reunite lost pets with their owners.

Kimbell documents her rescues on social media platforms with the handle Ari Vidya Cat. Posting on social media has yielded some donations of blankets, cat carriers and other supplies, and Petco in Bethel Park donated five boxes of food. She is in the process of applying for status as a nonprofit—the Second Chance Foster Acatemy—which could help with defraying some of the cost, which Kimbell estimates at about $4,000 a year.

Rapunzel is one of the rescues that stayed with Shulman and Kimbell after someone found the two-day-old kitten abandoned with a case of pneumonia.

“The vet wanted to euthanize her, but a vet tech who had an incubator took her home to see if she survived,” Kimbell said. She and Shulman brought Rapunzel home after six weeks of antibiotics.

“She looked like a discarded fur pile from a Muppet factory,” she said with a smile. “She was pitiful!

“None of these cats are beautiful from the start. Many come here in very rough condition. Some are just not socially ready to be adopted.”

Kimbell has enlisted her sister and a couple of neighborhood kids to come to her house and help to socialize the cats that need it by just petting and cuddling them, to try to acclimate them to humans.

Although Kimbell’s neighborhood does not have an overabundance of free-ranging cats, the problem is not too far away.

“Here it’s relatively fine, we get the occasional cat, but two blocks over, around the Dormont-Mt. Lebanon border, is a very large cat colony. I don’t know if people are dumping cats there, or if people are letting out cats without fixing them, but I recently got in touch with a woman in Dormont who trapped, neutered and released 17 cats. She almost went broke doing it.”

How do you tell the difference between a community cat and a feral cat? If its coat is dirty, with bald spots and matted fur, it’s probably living on its own. When a cat has been spayed or neutered, vets clip off a small tip of one ear, to make its condition easier to note, “but if the ear’s intact and the cat looks bedraggled, that’s a phone call to someone like me.”

Photo credit: John Schisler