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Feral cats delivered to farmers in need of mousers

Staff writer

Animal control officer Duane Davis has a soft spot in his heart for the bedraggled feral cats that roam the streets of Peabody.

Instead of sending them to be exterminated after he traps them, he has found a way to put their killer instincts to good use.

“What I do is try to contact farmers who have problems with rodents in their barns to see if they need any cats,” Davis said. “Many times they say, ‘Bring me two or three cats,’ and I go there and put them in their barns.”

There is no set waiting list of people that he keeps — it’s just a “word-of-mouth thing” between Davis and farmers.

Jerry Plett, a longtime farmer who lives outside of Lincolnville, has never taken strays from Davis, but has kept barn cats all his life as a way to combat the ranks of rodents that can infest outbuildings if left unchecked.

“If you have mice, you’ll know. That’s why we have cats, not house cats, but wild cats that have been raised entirely outdoors,” Plett said. “Boy they sure keep the mice and rats out of the barn, the house, and everywhere really.”

In Plett’s experience, domesticated cats don’t have the sharp hunting skills that feral cats do.

“Their hunting skills really are a benefit,” Plett said. “It makes a substantial difference on the farm.”

Technically retired, Davis works about 10 hours a week for the city of Peabody trapping wayward felines and other rascally critters that venture within city limits.

Usually he gets calls from citizens asking him to set traps near their houses, but he said there are about six or seven different hotspots where feral cats congregate.

“Some of the alleys are pretty heavily populated. There will be periods of three to five weeks where I won’t catch anything, but in the last 10 days I’ve caught 13 cats,” he said Thursday.

Davis uses live-traps baited with canned tuna fish to catch cats.

“They really go for the tuna,” he said. “I get possums, coons, and cats with it.”

Semiretired farmer Terry Eberhard of has known Davis for several years and admires what he is does for the cats.

“I know people in town who don’t like the strays running around,” Eberhard said. “Compared to shooting them or dumping them off in the country, Duane is kind of doing a humane thing.”

However, Davis’s trapping isn’t without its difficulties. Even though he is relatively sure that the town cats he relocates to farms are not pets, pet cats do take the bait and owners get upset.

“I caught my wife’s own cat before,” he said. “It was 13 years old and well fed. Sometimes it happens like that. I sure hated to tell her I found it in a trap.”

Duane said sometimes pets don’t have collars or tags and owners can “get to cussing and name calling” if their cat is caught.

Davis said some people who don’t agree with what he does trip traps to keep him from catching cats. However, Davis said it’s easy to tell the difference between a pet and a feral cat.

“Even without a collar, a well-fed and cared for pet cat is totally different looking than a wild and sickly one,” he said. “I usually turn pets loose and inform families where I saw it last.”

As to stray cats, he can legally keep them in his state inspected kennels for up to three days while he looks for farmers in need of the mouser skills of a feral cat before he has to turn them over to the veterinarians, who would ultimately have to euthanize them.

“The cats I deliver don’t live solely off rodents,” Davis said. “Most farmers put feed in their barns to keep the cats around.”

Last modified April 8, 2015

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