PHOENIX — Neighbors fear someone might be poisoning stray cats after a dozen dead kittens and cats were found on Rose Street last week.
Longtime Third Street homeowner Patti Williard, who began feeding dozens of feral and stray felines left behind after a neighborhood "cat house" was demolished next door, said she found the dead cats in her backyard Friday and Saturday.
"I know a lot of people don't like having that many cats around, but why poison them?" she asked.
"There are more humane ways to deal with this."
The demolished house was once home to as many as 70 cats and a number of dogs before it burned in a two-alarm fire in March 2003. City officials removed the structure last year because of safety concerns, and the lot is now vacant with small piles of trash and overgrown weeds.
Neighbors say despite the city's earlier efforts to trap the animals, residents have inherited a colony of felines for which they have provided food and some shelter.
Williard, who lives between a Campus Life facility and Rose Street, was housing a dozen kittens in a rabbit hutch outside while she socialized the animals and advertised for adoptive homes.
When she found the kittens dead, a strange-colored liquid coming from their mouths, she was heartbroken, she said. Eleven cats of varying ages, including two kittens dubbed Butterscotch and Sideways, were found Saturday, with an older kitten discovered Friday.
Pine Street resident Tami Snow said Wednesday her own cat had been missing for three days. She voiced concern there might be someone poisoning cats in Phoenix within weeks of a severely burned cat being discovered in Eagle Point.
Snow said she wished Jackson County had better laws to prevent pet overpopulation but also that it would mandate stricter penalties for people who injure animals.
"Our cat is an outdoor cat and he goes outside some and then comes back in. We leave food outside for him and for whoever else comes along," said Snow.
"It's really sickening to think people would kill the cats. That makes me mad. I'm really worried because my cat is missing."
Bob Stapp, Phoenix-Talent area director for Campus Life, discovered another dead cat on the stoop of a nearby church recently. He said the multitude of wandering cats had been an issue before and after removal of the house.
Stapp said Campus Life coordinators installed a "Cat Stop" cat deterrent post that emits a loud sound when an animal is detected walking past, but the device did little to deter the neighborhood colony. He does not condone poisoning cats.
"Maybe they're dying because they're feral or not getting good food or maybe it's the cold temperatures," Stapp suggested.
"It's sad, because if you do catch them and take them to animal control, they put them to sleep. You hate to see them killed because somebody abandoned them, but on the other hand you see them all over the place."
Animal control officials had no reports of dead or trapped cats in the area.
Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center Director Colleen Macuk said poisoning is common during winter because of the increased use of antifreeze, which is lethal to animals. She said it was unusual, though, for several dead cats to be found at one time.
Phoenix Reserve Officer Andrew Alexander said the city had received no complaints about cats "at large," nor reports of missing or dead felines.
But poisoning cats, he noted, is a criminal offense.
"If people don't like them they have every right to trap them, but poisoning them is actually a crime," he said. Phoenix police can be reached at 541-535-1113.
According to city ordinances, residents who knowingly feed strays or allow cats to wander "at large" are in violation of city codes and subject to being fined. Violators are prosecuted on a complaint-driven basis.
Williard's daughter-in-law, Brandy Williard, said her family and neighbors were trying to make the best of a difficult situation by providing food for the strays.
"Nobody wants that many cats around, but we were trying to do the best we could," she said.
"Those poor kittens didn't die a humane death."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.