Walmart lifts feeding ban for feral cats

Tony Raap/The Herald
Cats near the Walmart on Jasper's north side.

By TONY RAAP
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Walmart has allowed a Jasper woman to resume feeding a colony of feral cats near the store’s automotive repair shop, ending a monthlong standoff that sparked a public outcry.

It’s unknown whether the retail giant still plans to hire a third party to trap the cats and relocate them elsewhere. A Walmart spokeswoman could not be reached this morning.

Priscilla, the cats’ longtime caretaker, was told Sunday the store had lifted its feeding ban. She said she wasn’t told why the company reversed its stance.

When she fed the cats Sunday, “they ate and they ate and they ate, and they didn’t stop to take a break or even look up,” said Priscilla, who agreed to be interviewed only if her last name wasn’t published.

She brought the cats dinner every day for more than a decade. But on June 8, she was told she could no longer feed the animals. Walmart officials have said the cat food began to attract skunks and other wild animals. At least 20 cats live near the store, 17 of which have been spayed and neutered. Nonetheless, the colony seemed to be multiplying, company officials have said.

Priscilla had fed the cats for so long they had become dependent on her for food and water, so she continued to feed them even after being told not to. On June 16, store managers called Jasper police when she refused to leave. But on Sunday, officers stationed in the store’s parking lot didn’t bother her when she brought the cats food and water. Minutes after she set the food on the ground, a half dozen cats emerged from the underbrush. “I’m just appalled at how thin they are,” Priscilla said. “Their flanks are all caved in.”

The feeding ban touched off an uproar on social media. A Facebook page called “Save the Jasper Indiana Walmart Cats” has garnered more than 500 “likes” since it was created last week by Ramona, a friend of Priscilla’s, and Ramona’s daughter.

“There are a lot of people out there that want those cats protected,” Ramona said. Like Priscilla, she agreed to be interviewed only if her last name wasn’t published.

“Those cats never bothered anybody,” she added. “They’re more afraid of people than people are of them.”

A rival Facebook page opposing the effort to help the cats has also sprung up. Walmart officials asked police to patrol the store’s parking lot over the weekend to “maintain a presence so that things remained peaceful and serene,” Jasper Police Chief Michael Bennett said.    

For now, the cats will remain where they are. On Sunday, Tiffany Moncrief and her friend Kim Bratton asked the officers stationed in the parking lot if they could take some of the cats home with them. Moncrief, who lives on a farm near Jasper, wanted a few cats for her barn to keep the field mice in check. But officers told her she couldn’t remove any animals from the property.

“I thought, ‘Hey, it would be great to grab some of these rather than have to go through the adoption process over at the humane society,’” Moncrief said. “I didn’t want to pay for the cats. I wanted some free cats.”

Herald Staff Writer Candy Neal contributed to this report.

Contact Tony Raap at traap@dcherald.com.