Plight of Wild Cats Has Neighbors Howling

Wild cats in Meadows trailer park in Chantilly
Wild cats in Meadows trailer park in Chantilly (Giuliana Nakashima - The Washington Post)
By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008

For years, the wild cats at the Meadows trailer park in Chantilly have been as much a part of life in the community as the roar of planes overhead from nearby Dulles International Airport.

More than 200 feral cats roam the quiet streets of the neighborhood, one of the few mobile home parks in Fairfax County. About a dozen residents feed the animals and trap them, making sure they are vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Feline fans have turned the steps of their homes into cat roosts; one even bought a two-story "feral villa" trimmed with fancy shingles to shelter the animals.

Other residents say the cats are destroying their quality of life. They say the animals -- which congregate by the dozens -- kill birds, rummage through gardens and treat the neighborhood like a litter box.

Now the fur is really flying.

The development's management company, which has been trying to spruce up the place to attract upscale buyers, sparked a neighborhood uproar Feb. 11, when it notified residents that it would begin "humanely trapping feral cats" and take them to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. The notice triggered fears that the cats would be euthanized.

Sgt. Andrew Sanderson, an animal control officer, said that receiving more than 200 wild cats at the shelter would create a "logistical nightmare."

The ensuing fight has prompted officials with the management company, Equity LifeStyle Properties, to put the trapping plan on hold, and they plan to meet with the cat supporters today, Sanderson said. The general counsel for the Chicago-based company, which operates other properties across the country, did not return phone calls.

The cat issue has pitted longtime residents of traditional double-wide trailers, who welcome the animals, against neighbors who bought newer two- and three-bedroom manufactured homes.

"I'm sick of it," said Sharon Allison, 57, an office manager who stopped sleeping in her bedroom for a while because the smell of cat feces outside was so overpowering. "You can see them everywhere. Sometimes in the evenings, they have a meeting. They all come to the middle of the street -- to talk about where the best food is, I guess."

The cats' supporters fear that if the animals are taken to the shelter they face certain death, because feral cats are almost always euthanized. The also worry that by speaking out, they are jeopardizing their monthly rent for space at the park, about $800. It is a rare affordable-living option in a county where the average assessed value of a single-family home is $617,541.

"We're very scared they're going to kill the cats," said Cindy Sikes, 45, a border protection officer for the Department of Homeland Security. "We're afraid of getting evicted 'cause we don't agree. . . . We're really going out on a limb here."

Because the cats are on private property, they are the responsibility of the management company and the volunteer caretakers, Sanderson said. County animal control officers respond to a call only when an animal is sick, injured or abused.

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