“There’s a huge feral cat problem” on Townhouse Road in Whitefield, a county animal control officer told the Whitefield Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
Ben Cook, who acts as the primary animal control officer for four towns in the area, said an estimated 60-100 cats roam free on Townhouse Road and bring serious health concerns.
The colony of cats has “a very rare form of lice that can spread to livestock,” Cook said. The cats also carry highly contagious respiratory and eye infections.
The town does not know who might be responsible for the issue, Administrative Assistant Darlene Beaulieu said.
If an animal control officer brings an injured animal to a veterinarian’s office, the town receives the bill under state law.
Beaulieu said she has been receiving complaints about the cats.
Cook is working with a program that traps, spays, and neuters the cats and releases them back where they were found.
Typically, animal control officers do not go after cats if they do not have to, said Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Murphy, who was also present at the meeting.
Cook works for the sheriff’s office, which provides animal control to local towns on a contract basis.
Cook said he wants to distribute a brochure with information about the cats.
“Don’t feed the cats,” Murphy warned.
Whitefield Board of Selectmen Chair Tony Marple said two people have made complaints about the flashing lights on the animal control officer’s vehicle and his rumored collection of dog license fees.
Cook uses flashing lights as a precaution because he sometimes drives slowly on the road.
“We discussed (the flashing lights). Some people take that the wrong way,” Murphy said. Cook will now only use the flashing lights on the road, not when he pulls into someone’s driveway.
Part of the animal control officer’s job is to encourage the licensing of dogs. The town’s administrative assistant provides a list of unlicensed dogs, Murphy said.
“It’s a state statute to license a dog; however, the enforcement is left up to the towns,” Murphy said.
The previous administrative assistant, Aaron Miller, was the animal control officer’s liaison for the town. He gave Cook the go-ahead to do three to four hours of licensing enforcement work per week.
Animal control officers do not take fees. Any fees are paid to the town or court, Murphy said.
Enforcement starts with a call, then a door tag, a written warning, and a summons to court. However, in Whitefield, Cook has yet to summons a dog owner.
The board will look into whether to continue licensing enforcement or shorten the animal control officer’s licensing hours during an upcoming board meeting.