CUMMING -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, trying to eliminate what it considers a threat to public health and wildlife, has begun removing feral cats from a park at Lake Lanier.
The Corps posted signs last week warning people not to feed animals in the West Bank Park in Forsyth County and is working with animal control and the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office to trap and remove the cats.
Capt. Frank Huggins with the Sheriff's Office said the office has set traps to catch cats and continues to monitor them. Once a cat is caught, the animal is then transported to the Forsyth County Animal Shelter.
"Our role in this is simply to assist the Corps of Engineers," Huggins said.
Park ranger Sean Cummings said the issue of feral cats in the park has been something the Corps has been dealing with for years.
"Cats are kind of a main vector for the spread of rabies and there has been recently in Hall County outbreaks of rabies," Cummings said. "We're trying to prevent that as well as another parasite that they carry, which is toxoplasmosis, specifically harmful to pregnant women and can cause miscarriages."
Cummings said efforts to work with local residents who have been feeding the cats, some trapping, spaying or neutering and releasing them back into the park, have not worked to control the population.
"It just hasn't been as effective as we would like it to be," he said, "which is kind of why we've had to step in and start doing some of the removing ourselves."
Carmela Quinlin, who has rescued cats from Lake Lanier herself, four of which became her personal pets, has been trapping the animals, having them spayed or neutered and then re-releasing them inside the park for years. The Suwanee resident said the trap, spay/neuter and return approach is the best option for the cats living there.
"I can't seem to sell the Corps on this," she said. "They're just not knowledgeable about feral cats. They think they're a threat to humans, that they're going to come out and scratch people, that they carry rabies. To even suggest that a child is going to get scratched when a child tries to pick up one of these cats is absurd. You may see one sitting in the woods, but as soon as you start to approach it, it's going to run away."
Cummings said the Corps estimates about 30 cats are living in the park area.
"We don't have anything against the cats other than the public health concern and the damage they can cause to wildlife," Cummings said.
Cummings said the Corps is coordinating with the Georgia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to see if the organization can find places to relocate the cats rather than have them turned over to the local shelter. Should the SPCA find legitimate places for relocation, he said, the Corps is willing to work with them.
Quinlin asked anyone with property to which the cats can be relocated to e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and include "feral cats" in the subject line.
"These cats have a right to live," she said.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.