LAWRENCEVILLE - At the edge of the woods at the top of Collins Hill Park, Ann Rupe bent down to fill three Styrofoam containers with cat food and milk Wednesday morning.
Before she finished filling all three containers, there was a rustle in the leaves. Slowly, three cats emerged from the woods and softly crept toward the containers.
When anyone moved too close to the cats they would melt back into the bushes. But once Rupe stepped back from the containers the cats began to munch on the food and slurp the milk.
Rupe, who lives in Lawrenceville and keeps two cats of her own, has been feeding the feral cats for about two years. Last winter she set up shelters for the cats using airline pet containers filled with blankets.
She estimates there are a dozen other people, some she knows and some she doesn't, who have been feeding cats in that location for almost a decade.
But now the park and Gwinnett Animal Control are taking matters into their own hands. David Clark, deputy director for park operations, said they are setting up humane traps to collect the cats and then bring them to the animal shelter in Lawrenceville. In order to make sure both the park and the cats remain clean and healthy, it's necessary to move the cats, he said.
"A park is not where the cats need to reside," Clark said. "If you have cats out there, with no veterinary care, anything can happen with the cats."
Cpl. Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department, said there are 72 cat pens at the animal shelter. However, if the cats are not adopted and the shelter runs out of room, they are put to sleep.
And Rupe fears that will happen to the cats she and others feed at Collins Hill Park. Because they are feral cats, rather than stray domesticated cats, she doubts they will be adopted.
Instead of animal control taking in the cats, Rupe would rather they be trapped, neutered and released back into the wild. She said she will greatly miss taking care of the cats, but plans to let animal control do its job.
"I guess we'll just keep checking to make sure none show up," Rupe said. "But if there are any there, I will feed them."