Ordinance would allow city to compel ‘cat keepers’ to have animals vaccinated and spayed or neutered
Alex Gecan Published 7:51 pm, Wednesday, March 4, 2015 STAMFORD —
A new city law may compel feral cat “keepers” to bring the animals in for neutering or to allow city or non-profit workers to trap the animals for the operation. The city is still hashing out the legal aspects of asking residents who feed feral cats to help prevent rabies and the feline population getting out of control. “We’re working on how to do this without making it too onerous that people stop taking care of the cats,” said Rep. Eileen Heaphy, who chairs the Animal Control Task Force.
State law does not explicitly make feral cat “keepers” responsible for vaccinating, spaying or neutering the animals. It does, however, allow cities and towns to draft ordinances that would do so. Such a law would give the city some sway in situations where people who feed feral cats are unwilling or unable to see that they are creating a nuisance.
Large populations of unvaccinated feral cats can pose a health hazard — rabies is a particular concern — so trapping them temporarily to neuter or spay and vaccinate them is critical. People who feed feral cats often realize after a point that the felines’ numbers are growing too much, or have a family member sees this, and calls one of the local organizations that traps the cats to get them fixed and have their shots.
“We get frequent calls regarding new colonies or stray abandoned cats from new feeders,” said Janine Paton, co-founder of the nonprofit , Friends of Felines. “Most people are asking for help and are very cooperative. We have found only a small percentage of people not cooperative and we look for creative ways to work with them. “A city ordinance would help solve that problem.
Ginny Peluso, who has set up straw-and-styrofoam shelters for the feral cats she feeds at her Fourth Street home, said she was in favor of a law that would enforce spaying, neutering and vaccinating. Many people, she said, “think it’s fun to feed and see the kittens, and the problem is, it gets overrun, and it gets to the point where that person has to move or the owner of the property says `you can’t do this anymore.’” Two cats, one of which had formerly run wild, live inside Peluso’s home. Another two, a mother and a daughter, roam outdoors. All have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered.
While cat feeders can sometimes raise the ire of their neighbors, especially if they’re feeding other wild animals too, Peluso’s neighbor Steve Aivalis, who works at Aivalis Architects a few doors down from Peluso, indicated that the animals were just another part of the neighborhood. “They’ve been around for a while now and we’ve gotten used to them,” said Aivalis. Once upon a time, the studio Aivalis shares with his father had been his mother’s home. “We’ve grown up with them being around, so it’s something we’re used to,” he said.
Rescue groups and other non-profit organizations have all weighed in on the proposed legislation. Both Friends of Felines and Pitter Patter back the idea. Cora Martino, who runs Pitter Patter with her partner Amy Hoyt, said an ordinance could help people understand that keeping the feral cat population in check is not that simple. For one thing, said Martino, feral cats only come out at night — when the Animal Control Center is closed. “They need to understand that we just don’t go there and go to someone’s driveway and throw some stinky fish in there and cats are going to come,” said Martino. “You have to know what you’re doing when you trap a feral cat.”
Kittens born to feral parents may be domesticated if found in time, said Martino, but a truly feral adult “has never been owned by a human. A real feral cat will rip your hand to shreds.” But, Martino said, once colonies are spayed and neutered, they become much more docile, and eventually die out.
Heaphy said there was a delicate balancing act between respecting keepers’ property rights and addressing possible public safety issues that wild animals pose.
Heaphy said the task force had also considered a “clear definition of what is a dangerous dog or what is a dangerous pet,” as well as a “section on responsible pet ownership.” The group will continue to deliberate through April before presenting a final report to Mayor David Martin.