In Shamokin, spring's warm weather and sunny skies bring not just flowers and butterflies, but a boom in the already egregious feral cat population.

The problem has become so uncontrollable that city code enforcement officer Rick Bozza is eyeing Northumberland Borough's recently adopted cat licensing ordinance.

Bozza estimates between 400 and 600 feral cats have made their home within city limits. He does not include cats with owners in that count.

"It's out of my control now," Bozza said earlier this week.

Feral cats wreak havoc on blighted and well-maintained properties alike. Cats urinate on buildings, trees and sidewalks, emanating a nauseating stench that engulfs the city during hot and humid summer months. Cat urine also contains chemicals that can cause damage to buildings, especially woodwork.

Bozza said one Shamokin woman's car, which was covered and parked off the street, was severely damaged by scratches when the animals dug their claws into the paint and windshields.

"It's a public nuisance," he said.

Rules for cats

Residents in Northumberland became frustrated by many of the same experiences, leading them to enact the new ordinance.

The borough has yet to fully enforce the ordinance because it is awaiting implementation of a electronic system that can track the licenses, but borough officials said they expect the system to be up and working in the coming weeks.

The ordinance extends many of the existing rules about dogs to cats. Under the new ordinance, cats must be licensed through the borough, spayed or neutered and kept indoors unless leashed.

Any unleashed cat found outside will be picked up by animal control. If licensed, the cat will be returned to its owner, who may receive a citation for violating the leash law. If unlicensed, the cat will be taken away by animal control.

Bozza strongly supports this part of the ordinance, and said Shamokin has already deputized two people to help with animal control.

"I have nothing against cats, but if they are strays they should get picked up and euthanized," he said.

PETA accepts euthanasia as an option for controlling cat populations.

"Having witnessed firsthand the gruesome things that can happen to feral cats and to the animals they prey on, PETA cannot in good conscience oppose euthanasia as a humane alternative to dealing with cat overpopulation," according to PETA's website.

Tattooing and RFID microchips are two ways cats can be licensed permanently.

According to Ashley Carnahan, a veterinary technician at Sunbury Animal Hospital, the procedures are painless and cost between $40 and $50.

"It's definitely a good idea," she said.

Don't feed the cats

In addition to the new rules regarding household cats, Northumberland's ordinance also forbids outdoor feeding of feral cats.

Bozza said outdoor feeding is the biggest contributor to the feral cat problem in Shamokin.

When Bozza drives through neighborhoods with feral cat issues, he sees bowls of cat food, sometimes numbering in the dozens, sitting on porches, driveways and sidewalks. Some cat feeders have even been installed on trees in wooded areas.

According to PETA's website, "Each situation is different, but it is never acceptable - no matter how noble the intentions - to feed cats without providing them with medical care, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering. Doing so would serve only to endanger the cats and perpetuate the overpopulation crisis and its tragic consequences: the needless deaths of millions of animals every year."

Bozza knows these bowls are the biggest contributors to the cat problem in Shamokin, but without an ordinance forbidding their existence, he cannot do anything to remove them. He strongly supports an ordinance that would eliminate unmonitored outdoor feeding.

"I encourage people not to feed the cats," Bozza said. "The cats won't leave once you feed them."

Bozza does note one positive aspect to the enormous cat population.

"They are good for mice," he said. "We have absolutely no mouse problem in the city."