Feral cats at Sparrows Point, once hunted, now saved | WYPR

Feral cats at Sparrows Point, once hunted, now saved

Nov 15, 2016

Michelle Eubank and Wayne Warble were making the rounds one recent Sunday, taking care of the dozens, if not hundreds, of feral cats that inhabit the old Bethlehem Steel property at Sparrows Point.

They poured food and water into dishes and placed them at four sites with names that harken back to the old days, when Sparrows Point was home to the largest steel mill in the world.

"I was thinking we’ll hit, power house, Kinder Morgan, then come back and do scrap yard and slab shop," Eubank said as they started their route.

When Eubank stopped her black Dodge Ram at the power house, the cats ran out from their hiding places in the brush and tall grass.

"See, they see the truck here. These are three of our four regulars,” Eubank said.

The cats made their way through an abandoned turnstile as they headed for dinner. This happens nearly every day. Eubank gets help with the feeding from people who work at Sparrows Point, like Warble, who has been here since 1998.

He says cats have been at Sparrows Point for decades and got there in different ways. They were left behind when folks who lived on the point moved to make way for the steel mill and their descendants remain. Others were dumped there and an occasional cat might wander off a ship.

When the mill was going full blast, the owners considered feral cats a pain and hired crews to hunt and kill them. Warble says he fed the cats back then, at the risk of losing his job.

"You weren’t allowed to feed," he said. "They would send letters if they caught someone feeding food they were going to fire them."

In its heyday, Bethlehem Steel employed 30,000 people, but the mill closed for good in 2012 and Tradepoint Atlantic, the new owner, is tearing down much of what is left of those days to redevelop the property. Michael Moore, the CEO of Tradepoint Atlantic, said the cats can stay.

"Not all of the property will be built out," Moore said. "There is going to be a lot of free and open space for coexistence."

That gives volunteers like Eubank and Warble a chance to save the cats. And Eubank does more than just feed them. She traps the cats and takes them to a clinic at the Dundalk Health Center run by Community Cats Maryland, a volunteer organization, where they are fixed and vaccinated. And sick cats are nursed back to health.

When they are finished at the clinic, the cats are released where they were caught. Since July, about 160 feral cats have been trapped, neutered and released at Sparrows Point. The goal is to have stable feral cat colonies with healthy, fixed cats.

The clinic over the second weekend in November was the last for Community Cats Maryland. Baltimore County says they have to go to make room for a county-run trapping program. So the volunteer organization that helps homeless cats is itself now looking for a home.