Feral cat problem still clawing at sub base

Groton — The Naval Submarine Base is still grappling with a feral cat problem despite reaching out to local shelters and animal control officers for help, and convening a "Feral Cat Summit" last year to find solutions. 

Base spokesman Chris Zendan said the issue is "just as common" in the local area as it is on the base.

Feral cats pose a public health threat and a potential risk to the base's operation, he said.

"Impacts could manifest themselves through equipment or facility damage, work disruption, personnel exposure to disease, and the loss of native wildlife due to feral cat predation," Zendan said.

Officials have stepped up enforcement of a base and Navy policy to not feed feral animals, which also includes providing water, shelter, engaging and interacting with the animals, by employing surveillance cameras and patrols.

Both military and nonmilitary personnel could face punishment for failing to obey the policy.

Sailors could face a range of disciplinary and/or administrative actions under the U.S. Code of Military Justice, and government civilians could face a range of administrative actions including removal of their base access privileges in "exceptional instances," Zendan said.

Base officials don't know how many cats are roaming around and instead are focused on sealing off any areas "where building or storage layout or construction may allow animal access," Zendan said.

The cats are patronizing several areas on base, including the lower base where the submarines are docked and which has numerous storage areas.

In working to control the feral cat population, base leadership "maintains a staunch concern for animal welfare and the pursuit of a human approach," Zendan said.

The cats are believed to be wild and not strays. Sailors are not allowed to have pets in their barracks on base.

As for whether people can adopt the cats, Zendan said local animal rescue organizations have said that feral cats are "often hard to domesticate and adopt out."

Previously, base officials have reached out to local shelters and town animal control officers.

But limited capacity at local shelters and strained resources have hindered the base from getting help with the problem.

The "Feral Cat Summit," hosted in January 2015, brought together base officials, representatives from animal rescue organizations and community stakeholders including staff from the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, to research possible solutions and determine what assistance could be provided. 

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: @JuliaSBergman

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