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Leesport being monitored after rabid cat attack; Berks second in PA for rabies cases

For years, and some residents of the area say decades, outdoor cats have been a problem in the neighborhood around Shackamaxon Street in Leesport.

The problem came to a head Aug. 20 when a woman was bitten and scratched by a cat she thought was injured and tried to help. The cat died about 15 minutes after the attack and tested positive for rabies.

Some of the cats are owned, but their families let them come and go as they please. Others are strays that have been abandoned by their families. Cats in yet another group are what would be classified as feral — they have not had human interaction, nor do they seek it out. Collectively, they are referred to as community cats by people in the animal rescue and control business.

Ontelaunee Township cat trapper Tracy Stoudt, who was called to the Leesport cat attack scene Aug. 20 by police, said the cat overpopulation problem could be solved if more individuals, rescues and organizations worked together toward the common goal.

Stoudt estimates the colonies along Shackamaxon Street, on both sides of Route 61, could have as many as 70 cats.



The ARL said in an email Aug. 24 that it feels the rabid cat was an isolated case.

“Caleb Pyne, our community cat coordinator, and Officer (Savannah) Baller are canvassing the community to confirm the number of cats, assess the colony status, and support the colony feeders to get these animals altered and vaccinated,” wrote Jose Joel Delgado-Rivera, the ARL’s chief communications officer.

Baller is a humane police officer with the ARL’s Department of Animal Protection.

Delgado-Rivera said the ARL had not received many calls about sick cat sightings in Leesport. The situation differed from an incident in April when a St. Lawrence man was attacked by a cat that tested positive for rabies.

The ARL also said it would be offering free spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines at the shelter for any trapped cats from this community under its contract with the borough.

The ARL had stopped providing trap/neuter/return, or TNR, services for the public in July due to staffing shortages. Operation CatSnip was launched in 2020.

While the ARL did hire full-time veterinarian Dr. Misha Neumann in July, the shelter’s medical director and only other full-time vet, Dr. Jason Banning, left Aug. 19. Delgado-Rivera said they are seeking a replacement for Bannon. Delgado-Rivera said part-time veterinarian Dr. Elisabeth Lopez remains on staff.

The ARL said it had offered TNR services to contracted municipalities before 2022, and the option was discontinued due to lack of municipal interest.

“Leesport borough was the only municipality that chose this contract when it was offered,” Delgado-Rivera said.

The ARL now only offers full-service and limited-service municipal animal control contracts.

“In goodwill, we prioritize TNR efforts for contracted municipalities, but these efforts depend on capacity and resources available and are not a contractual obligation,” he explained.

Leesport Borough Manager Sandra Weiser-Pascavage said last week that the ARL has been very helpful.

Rabies in Pennsylvania

As of Aug. 24, Berks had the second-highest number of confirmed rabies cases in the state with 12. Of those cases, two were cats, seven were bats, two were raccoons, and one was a groundhog.

Lancaster County had the most in the state with 15 cases: five raccoons, four bats, three skunks, two horses and one cat.

The following are the numbers in other southeastern Pennsylvania counties: Chester — five raccoons, two bats and one fox; Delaware — two raccoons and one bat; Lehigh — two cats, two bats and one skunk; Montgomery — one bat; and Schuylkill — three bats, two raccoons and one fox.

Statewide, there have been 172 cases of rabies reported so far this year. Of those, 68 were found in raccoons, 42 were in bats and 30 were in cats.

Source: Berkshire mont

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