RICHLAND, Wash. — Business owners and Richland park rangers are trying to figure out how to manage colonies of feral cats along the Columbia River.
But it's not just the cats they're having problems with, it's the folks leaving food for them.
They say cat food dumped along the pathways and grass is more than just a mess; it's attracting skunks.
Richland park ranger Jason Janosky says the Tri-Cities has had colonies of feral cats for years, and that's part of the problem.
He estimates at least 100 stray cats live in the brush along the river, right next to popular parks.
"They're not supposed to be out in the wild," he explained.
The ranger says the cats are a nuisance, but his real issue is with the food being left for them.
"People are just dumping the food on the ground, they're just leaving the whole pile," he said. "And then you [get] the skunks. They're in this area specifically because they're getting fed."
Janosky says people who startle the skunks often wind up getting sprayed.
Feral cat advocate Andrea Davidson says she's one of many people feeding the cats, but she is careful about it.
"Unfortunately there are people who think more is better and that's when you get the large piles of food."
She said she's bothered by the messes some people leave behind, because they give the rest of them a bad reputation.
"And that's not good for cats either," she said.
Davidson says she and others like her are working diligently to trap, neuter and release feral cats back into the wild.
The idea is that those cats will in turn establish territories, keeping other cats out and preventing wave after wave of new kittens.
" They're God's creatures too," she said. "Life on the river is a short life as it is."
The animal lover says she's been bringing food around for a couple of years, and lately she's noticed a disturbing trend.
"They're not out here by choice. Most of these colonies are started by cats that have been dropped off," she said.
Pets illegally abandoned by their owners.
She calls it an irresponsible decision, especially if the cat is declawed.
"This is not the answer," Davidson says. "When you put a cat out there without claws it has no natural defense and it [isn't] fair to the cat."
Janosky agrees, but says he worries the folks feeding the cat colonies are contributing to the problem.
"We're getting more people dumping their unwanted cats," he said. "Because they think, 'It's okay, they're getting fed'."
Davidson says she isn't sure what the solution is, she just wants pet owners to do the right thing.
She says spaying or neutering your animal is vital, and more affordable than ever thanks to agencies offering financial assistance like Prevent Homeless Pets in Benton City.
The non-profit offers assistance to folks qualifying as low-income (based on federal income guidelines).
"If you're going to take on animal," she said. "You'd better be ready for the long-haul. It's not like buying a phone and changing it out in two years. They're there for many years and it's a big responsibility."
Action News spoke to Hampton Inn, one of the businesses most effected by the cats, litter and skunks.
They declined to be interviewed but say rumors that they're planning to euthanize the animals are false.
Instead, the manager says they're considering moving the colonies to farms where they can live out their lives as mousers, but for now nothing is set in stone.
In the meantime, officials are reminding folks that abandoning their pets is illegal in every corner of the Tri-Cities.
Instead, Davidson recommends contacting one the area's many non-profit agencies or shelters focused on finding an animal's forever home.