For four years, Maryanne Maxwell and two other women have been feeding a group of cats near the walking trail in Warwood.
They have even created makeshift shelters so the cats have somewhere warm to sleep.
They say they have never had a problem or any push-back until last week when they found out a complaint was filed and that the cats and their shelters have to go.
“It’s going to be really cold, and it’s going to break our hearts to think that their beds are going to be taken away,” said Maxwell.
The women have paid for the cats veterinary care and food themselves, and they say these cats are not dangerous and would run away from unfamiliar people.
Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble says he understands their good intentions, but there is no guarantee that the cats are not carrying disease.
“They can’t stay there with the number one risk which is rabies. There’s no guarantee that the cats that are sitting there are completely vaccinated and harmless,” said Gamble.
Gamble says that feral cats are sometimes treated differently in cities without active rabies, but that they cannot take the risk in Wheeling where rabies has been detected this calendar year.
The women say they do not understand why this action has been taken after several years without any issues.
“Whether or not they’ve been there for years, whether its one year, two years, or four years, doesn’t matter. They still pose a risk to human health,” said Gamble.
If the cats are not removed by the December 25, the city will have the cats removed by animal control or a contracted agency.
In the meantime, the women are working to find homes for these cats.
“We have to speak for the ones who can’t speak for themselves. That’s what we’re doing, and we’re prepared to do anything and everything that we can. We’re most willing to work with people. We’re not trying to buck the system. We’re just simply trying to protect the animals,” said Maxwell.
Gamble says the complaint was actually filed in August and that the situation was investigated.
He says because of the close proximity to the trail, they believe the shelters are on City property, and if it is right-of-way property owned by a company, they will contact the company to have the cats removed.