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Feud over wild feral cats in Harrison

HARRISON (WGME) -- A local rescue organization says cats are out of control in Harrison, and says it is only going to get worse if the town ignores the problem. Stephanie Mains, President of the Cat Coalition of Western Maine, says "The town of Harrison has a major problem with the feral cat situation." But town leaders say more money is being spent on cats than people in need.

The Cat Coalition of Western Maine used to take cats it collected in the town of Harrison to a shelter in South Paris, which is paid by the town. But according to a letter from the town manager, five months ago Harrison stopped paying for the cats. Stephanie Mains says "The only way to get some of these kittens adopted out is to get them in a shelter."

In the letter, Harrison town manager Bud Finch says "The current financial stress we face requires us to maximize every tax dollar we collect. We believe it is the pet owner's responsibility to take care of their pets." Cat Coalition's Carol Reynolds says "Maybe there's a budget problem. I don't know. But I know the shelter would like to be able to help the cats in Harrison."

Town Manager Bud Finch, though, says "The town doesn't believe it should be paying for everybody's cats that everybody wants done off of other taxpayers' money." Finch says there's a simple solution; Stop feeding the cats and they'll go away. Besides, he says, "We do not believe there's a cat problem, under the definition of state statutes, in the town of Harrison."

But the Cat Coalition of Western Maine insists Harrison has a huge problem with feral cats. They say at just one local farm, they trapped 36 cats and 47 kittens in all. The Cat Coalition says without shelters spaying and neutering cats, the problem in Harrison will only get worse. Stephanie Mains says she spoke to Bud Finch to try and get the town to reconsider.

Mains says "He told me on the phone what they do with cats Downeast is put them in a burlap bag and throw them off the pier. I was mortified to think that a town official would say something like that."

But Finch says "I was 7 years old when these things used to happen. I'm sure in the farmlands, they did something different." He says " I don't think I have a record of not liking cats. I have a job of respecting the taxpayers' dollars."

Finch says he has always been a cat owner.  He says the Cat Coalition just wants to town to pay thousands of dollars to care for all the cats they collect. Members of the Cat Coalition of Western Maine say the town should pay.

Harrison now pays about $10,000 a year to "Responsible Pet Care" shelter in South Paris, which currently cars for 120 cats. The shelter director told us they now have to get permission from the town to take in any cats from Harrison.