Stray cats colonize old warehouse

Jacques Kelly

March 06, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Some call it the cat condo. Others the Clinton Street Beach and Cat Club.

Twenty to 40 wild alley cats live in a secluded and dilapidated southeast Baltimore fertilizer bag warehouse overlooking the harbor. They are fed by a band of animal lovers, some of them anonymous, who make daily trips there. City police also keep an eye on the animals' safety.

Canton's cat condo is more properly known as "15 Building," a wooden structure on the grounds of the busy Lebanon Chemical Corp. in the 2500 block of S. Clinton St.

For as long as anyone can remember, this remarkable and highly independent animal colony has lived within the joists and crawl spaces of a graffiti-covered building.

"It's amazing they've lasted as long as they have," says Richard Mooney, assistant plant manager of the fertilizer plant, which now is getting ready for spring shipments to farmers.

Mr. Mooney recites the names for some of the most notable cats who freely roam his 19-acre industrial site:

"The best known are Gray, Blackie, Tom and Fluffie. In the last five years, the cats have really multiplied. I can tell who the fathers and mothers were."

The cats have the run of the plant property, which never houses a rat or a mouse. "The pigeons that come in to eat the corn left by dump trucks around here are the natural enemies of the cats," Mr. Mooney says. "You should see the cats leap through the beams at the pigeons."

The colony even has a pair of anti-social Siamese cats who have taken up residence in the rocks along the harbor's edge.

The cats live alongside one non-feline interloper, an opossum that has taken up residence on the property.

The Clinton Street cat condo also serves as a "dumping spot" for cat owners who want an instant divorce from pet ownership and its responsibility. But just as there are people who abandon cats here, there are those who enjoy feeding them here, too.

The cats' home at the foot of South Clinton Street is the end of the world for old industrial Baltimore. The bumpy, granite block-paved street dead ends at the harbor. Railroad hopper cars and 18-wheelers pound the street, which now is being repaved. But the long detour necessary to get to 15 Building hasn't bothered Edward V. Young Sr., a resident of South Bouldin Street.

The cats instantly recognize his burgundy station wagon when he pulls up each afternoon.

Before long, they are chowing down on cans of prepared cat food and lapping up the milk he brings.

"I spend about $60 a month here," Mr. Young says. He spent another $375 in veterinarian bills when he adopted two kittens and took them home.

Mr. Young especially is keeping a watchful eye on several pregnant females expected to deliver this spring.

"We find litters all over the plant and watch out for them," Mr. Mooney says.

A woman known in the area as "Mom" also makes daily contributions of dried food. As soon as her gray car arrives, the cats sense her presence and pop out from under the foundation.

Other visitors leave lunch meat, french-fried potatoes and chicken parts. An oil drum overflows with empty cat food cans. Sometimes people throw out discarded blankets and carpet squares for bedding. The cats eat from old beer can carton bottoms fashioned into a type of kitty cafeteria tray.

The cat population of 15 Building goes up and down. Workers at the plant estimate that it has risen as high as 40 or 50 cats. Many kittens do not survive into adulthood. One reason is that because the animals are not inoculated, contagious diseases can spread throughout the colony.

There is evidence that someone has trapped some of the overflow population, although it is unclear who might be doing it. A spokesman at the city Animal Control office says it is not city policy to trap cats on private property.

Meanwhile, all day long there is a steady flow of curious sightseers, an informal network of people who drive to the foot of Clinton Street to keep the kit-kat club, so to speak, purring.

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