By Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — Since July, more than two dozen cats have gone missing, according to the Clifton Park town website, many of them from the Country Knolls and Clifton Garden developments.
The disappearances, it seems, are continuing. Late Oct. 19, Stacey Clarke Krastins, a resident of Country Knolls South, posted to Facebook: “Has anyone seen this cat? He has been missing for about a week. His name is Tigs and he has a white collar.”
Underneath the text was an image of her orange furball, curled up comfortably on a couch.
The real question is, what is happening to these small household pets?
Coyotes? Fishers? Or perhaps the bear that — according to the gossip mill of social media and word of mouth — has been sighted in Country Knolls South and left behind a trail of toppled bird feeders?
“I would guess coyote and/or great horned owl,” said Roland Kays, former curator of mammals at the New York State Museum. “They are the most likely cat predator for suburban areas in my opinion; they both use suburban areas to prey on cats. Fishers are certainly using suburban Clifton Park, but there is no firm evidence that they kill cats; it seems like they probably could, but certainly with the owls and coyotes, we know they do.”
He continued: “[Coyotes ad great horned owls] are both nocturnal. They are generalist predators that take whatever they can find within a certain size range and cats are certainly within that size range. Both of them eat a lot of rabbit and really cats aren’t that much bigger than a rabbit so it fits in with what they are looking for.”
The coyotes, it seems, are only increasing in numbers. “Generally it does seem like the coyote population has been on an upward trajectory,” Kays said. “There are two parts to that: The numbers of coyotes in the state are increasing and the second is that they are also moving more and more into urban areas.”
Coyotes are doing this, he said, “Because there are delicious rabbits and cats to be eaten there.”
However, there is another potential predator to add to the list of suspects.
Eloise Link, who resides in Country Knolls, posted this to next-door.com the morning:
“Even though we do not have a pet, my friend informed me yesterday that her brother-in-law in Ballston Spa removed a huge tree that had fallen and found an eagle nest the size of a kitchen table. Inside the nest were 22 cat collars with their tags attached. I was thinking that perhaps not all missing pet are due to the coyotes?”
Ballston Spa may seem too far away to be the end point of these Clifton Park disappearances, but apparently there may be another eagle closer to these crime scenes. “I was throwing it out there so that people know that it might be something else besides coyotes; I know we have an eagle in our development,” Link told Your Clifton Park. “It was on the nextdoor.com message board a couple of months ago; someone said that they saw the nest over by the pond in our development.”
“You don’t see a whole lot of eagles in suburban Clifton Park,” Kays said. “Eagles tend to hunt along the waterways. They are hunting things on lakes and rivers like ducks and fish, not cats. Certainly they could kill a cat, but I’ve never heard of it.”
He continued: “I have heard stories of these cat collars getting collected somewhere, they turn out to be urban legends quite a lot.”
This isn’t the first time that small households pets have vanished.
“There is no doubt that every year we do receive reports of pets missing, and it may just be people talking about it in conversation,” Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said. “This time of year, it can be more prevalent; there’s many predators out there and many of them are very active. If you live in a neighborhood with a great deal of open space and wooded areas, that neighborhood is more susceptible to predators that can move around unnoticed. We have many neighborhoods that have large amounts of wooded areas. It is something that does occur on a fairly regular basis. It’s very sad to lose a household pet; I certainly understand people being upset.”
The town could issue a bulletin warning residents to beware of certain predators each year, but that might just raise worries without accomplishing much. The best thing that residents can do is to keep their cats (and even small dogs) inside or to watch them and stay by their side when they do venture outdoors.
“Also, don’t put food out for cats,” Kays said. “That’s going to attract the coyotes in; they like cat food even more than they like cats — it’s a magnet for coyotes.”
Despite the accumulating evidence that pets are disappearing, the culprit, for now, remains a mystery. “We don’t know what it is,” said Barrett, who’s shared his home for the last eight years with a calico named Snickers. “I make it a point, especially this time of year, to bring my cat in at night; I live in Country Knolls and there are acres and acres of wooded areas.
“We really don’t know what the cause is; I think we can discern that there’s a predator out there,” Barrett said. “The question is: what is it?”