City passes new feral cat ordinance addressing caretakers

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | 11:19 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A group of Columbia’s feral cat supporters burst into applause near the end of the City Council meeting on Tuesday. The members of Spay, Neuter and Protect welcomed council member Gary Kespohl’s suggestion that the group apply for city funds to help shoulder the costs of neutering and maintaining the health of Columbia’s feral cat population.

The cheers were short-lived for the group. After many of the members asked the council to reconsider much of a new ordinance addressing feral cat caretakers, the ordinance was passed 4 to 2.


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According to estimates by Best Friends Animal Society, there are more than 30,000 feral and stray cats in Columbia (The group provides an online calculator that estimates the number of cats in cities, counties and states across the country.)

. A feral cat is a relative of the domestic cat that was born outdoors and reverted to wild instincts. 

Under the new regulations, anyone feeding or harboring feral cats in Columbia is now required to:

  • Spay and neuter all of the cats in the colony.
  • Trap and annually test the cats for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.
  • Identify all trapped cats by tipping their ears and having a microchip inserted.
  • Have all cats vaccinated for rabies in addition to any other vaccinations or immunization requirements imposed by the state.
  • Take all reasonable steps to remove kittens from the colony after they have been weaned, place the kittens in homes or foster care, and capture and spay the mother cat.

The approved ordinance came as a disappointment to Christina McCullen, the first SNAP volunteer to speak at the meeting, and feral cat colony caretaker since 2006. Despite a small amendment to discard a $25 permit fee that the ordinance had proposed, the rest of the requirements stuck.

“They left in the most expensive parts of it,” she said, referring to the microchipping and annual disease testing. National organizations such as Alley Cat Allies, which support trap, neuter and release programs, don’t recommend these requirements for feral cats, she said. 

Despite the requests to table the ordinance for further consideration by the Board of Health, Mayor Bob McDavid said the board had already worked on the ordinance for two years and wanted to see a resolution.

Board member Nathan Voris spoke at the meeting as well, and addressed his concerns for the public health if feral cat populations continue to grow in Columbia. He cited a recent news story of a girl in California who contracted rabies, likely from a feral cat.

Voris said the ordinance was in the best interest of the cats and support organizations as well. The original reason for the board to draft the ordinance was that the Humane Society's space and resources were maxed out.

“I believe this ordinance is a stop-gap measure,” he said.

McCullen said it’s excessive and unnecessarily expensive. She said that funds that are now required by the ordinance would be made better use of on trap, neuter and release efforts, which SNAP supports. 

“This (will) really cripple the trap, neuter and release efforts in Columbia,” she said. “We’re going to run out of money very quickly.”

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Kevin Gamble July 6, 2011 | 1:20 a.m.

Yet another blunt-instrument solution from the city council. Hard to see how this will help anything - it won't solve the problem and only punishes those who try to address it.

Welcome to Missouri - we lay down the red carpet for puppy mills but create laws against people feeding stray cats. Our state's race to the cultural bottom continues (with billboards and cheap cigarettes inundating us along the way).

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox July 6, 2011 | 3:50 a.m.

You know the neighbor's cat came over while I having a BBQ outside, I gave it a little chicken but I didn't ask for i.d., I'm going to have to be more careful.
Raccoon's get in my trash sometimes despite my best efforts,is a raccoon ordnance next, am I going to be forced to trap raccoon's have them spayed/neutered, vaccinated and chipped? Oh and those bird baths and feeders, people should be trapping those birds, testing them for bird flu and having them clipped and chipped.
Worthless nonsense, this will be hard to prove and nearly impossible to enforce.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 6, 2011 | 7:44 a.m.

"He cited a recent news story of a girl in California who contracted rabies, likely from a feral cat."

There were a whopping 4 US cases of rabies in humans in 2009. This isn't something we need to be spending a lot of time worrying about. Even toxoplasmosis (which is a lot more common) doesn't usually cause symptoms in immunocompetent people.

Every feral cat I know about stays far away from people. There's quite a colony near the corner of Garth and Ash (they get food from the shelter dumpsters and also their own hunting). I've never gotten within 20 feet of one.

I don't see our feral cat population as a problem. I don't feed them, and would encourage people not to, but I also don't see them overrunning Columbia. Cars do as good a job as anything at controlling the population.


(Report Comment)
Shawna Sheeba July 6, 2011 | 8:06 a.m.

As an avid cat lover, I have ALWAYS fed feral cats, and I have always attempted to capture them temporarily to have them spayed or neutered. But, to impose a mandatory obligation to have these cats tested for feline leukemia is crazy. Those tests are hundreds of dollars....for ONE, let alone for a colony. Kevin Gamble is right, its pretty unfair, and pathetic, that we can allow for puppies and dogs to live in deplorable conditions, but we are expected to fork out hundreds of dollars a year for feral cats?
MY HOUSECATS dont even get tested (housecats dont need to be tested--no way to contract it), so, unfortunately, Im forced to NOT take care of these poor cats. No one else will, and thats the reason we have ferals in the first place. Pretty sad day in Columbia. Shame on you, city council!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 6, 2011 | 8:35 a.m.

Until Columbia and Boone County governments decide to properly fund an animal control system instead of half a--ing it on the backs of local non-profits (and now, citizens who feed strays), Columbia and Boone County will continue to deal with thorny problems (like feral cats) many other communities in which I have lived resolved years ago. It's yet another gap in our infrastructure funding that puts us terminally behind much of the rest of the nation.

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III July 6, 2011 | 9:06 a.m.

Shawna Sheeba and Mike Martin said it best, not much else to add.

The city council needs to understand the law of unintended consequenses. For those that can not afford to continue feeding and caring for feral cats, then the problem will be exasperated. Cats will be left to their own devices and means of survival, and reproduce like crazy.

Once again the city has issued another mandate (which cost them nothing) and put the burden on those compassionate people who have stepped forward on their own to address the real problem the city refuses to address. Another gutless decission by the council, symbolism over substance.

What will be the city's solution be if the Humane Society has to close for lack of resources?

Better living through government? I think not.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 6, 2011 | 10:20 a.m.

It would be nice if the article stated who voted for that. I believe in accountability in government.

(Report Comment)
Peter Wolf July 6, 2011 | 12:05 p.m.

John asks an excellent question: "What will be the city's solution be if the Humane Society has to close for lack of resources?"

As I understand it, this very thing happened a couple years ago in Athens, GA. The reason? Their system was overwhelmed with cats brought in as strays.

I have a difficult time believing the people responsible for drafting this ordinance were unaware of its potential consequences. On the contrary, I think this was an attempt to put an end to TNR without having to make a politically risky position public.

The community has been sold a bill of goods here.

Peter J. Wolf

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin July 6, 2011 | 12:57 p.m.

Here's a good summary of what the new "feral cat ordinance" will require of people feeding strays: 14 new rules and 5 application requirements:

And nary a mention of the important role city/county animal control should be playing. "Draconian" doesn't even begin to describe this counterproductive piece of legislation.

In most cities in which I have previously lived, a well-funded animal control program long ago humanely reduced the population of stray or feral cats.

It's not an issue you would even hear much about. Rabies spread by stray cats? During the dark ages, maybe. But not in the 21st Century.

All of the things Columbia is now requiring of private citizens -- from neutering to testing -- publicly funded animal control agencies, staffed with trained professionals, veterinarians, etc., should handle.

But once again, a basic health and human service will be privately funded.

Meanwhile, prominent developers dine on all the tax incentives they can devour.

And City Hall/County Hall senior level administrators build giant new office spaces and vastly increase the price and size of their monopolies, most notably downtown parking.

All while planning to ask -- no, make that push and push hard -- for more tax and fee hikes during a period many economists are likening to the Great Depression.

After all the office space and garage expansions and salary increases they give themselves with our money, they find they have none of our money left and now need more. Wonder why.

What empathy these leaders have, eh? What compassion for their constituents! What common sense for the community.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 6, 2011 | 3:38 p.m.

Will this result in a shortage of pussy[-ies] in our fair city? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders July 6, 2011 | 3:41 p.m.

When feeding cats is outlawed, only outlaws will feed cats!

Yet another example of criminalizing perfectly normal behavior. Better yet, it requires the "snitch on your neighbor" protocol for enforcement, helping to even further divide the community.

Seems there is nothing that a determined political group cannot destroy in the name of progress.

(Report Comment)
Christina Mccullen July 7, 2011 | 1:20 a.m.

I was happy to see that two of the six members of the City Council supported enacting a reasonable ordinance. Instead, we got an ordinance that will only hurt efforts to control the feral and stray cat population. Two Board of Health members effectively exaggerated the threat of rabies from these cats. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reported that between 1990 and 2006, there were 38 cases of rabies in humans. None of these were acquired from cats. And the most important fact is ignored - for every cat that we trap, neuter and vaccinate, that miniscule risk is lowered. These cats cannot be legislated or starved out of existence. It doesn't work. Trap-Neuter-Return works. This had been shown all over the world.

During the City Council meeting the Director of Public Health and Human Services, Stephanie Browning, repeatedly stated her concern that this ordinance will be unenforceable. Animal Control is already overburdened. Stephanie's attempts to encourage/craft a compromise ordinance were dismissed. I was very disheartened to learn that Animal Control deals with cat complaints by loaning people traps and telling them to bring cats to the humane society to be killed. Apparently, it is okay to use bait to trap any cat that walks on your property, even pets. Can they just assume that anyone asking for a trap is being reasonable or even truthful? Does anyone tell the neighbors where their cat has disappeared to? They wouldn’t have much time to look since trapped cats are usually killed very quickly.

Why is our city ignoring the volunteer resource in our community that helps control the cat population in a humane way? Columbia Second Chance - SNAP ( Spay, Neuter and Protect) regularly mediates cat-related conflicts for businesses and homeowners. By educating people about the proper care of our community’s cats, we can usually achieve a compromise without the need for killing. Hermann MO has been referring cat-related calls to their TNR group and having great success. (see 205.300) Columbia’s new ordinance provides absolutely no protection for cats or the Good Samaritans who care for them. I haven't spoken to a single caretaker who plans to register for these repressive permits. What is the point? In the end, this ordinance is only going to cost the city and the caretakers more money.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 7, 2011 | 5:31 p.m.

Is it still OK to feed squirrels to the nuts in the park?
"Cat Management in Communities"
(Webpage on Community Cat Management)

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 8, 2011 | 1:12 p.m.

I know. This thing looks really dangerous.
Let's KILL it.

(Report Comment)
Stacy Parmer July 9, 2011 | 12:56 p.m.

I am absolutely outraged that city council members passed this ordinance when it should have been placed on the ballot for voters to decide. Mayor Bob McDavid said the board had been working on the ordinance for 2 years and wanted a resolution. What exactly were they “working” on? Apparently they were not educating themselves on the issue at hand. If they had done thorough research, they would have found that the measures they have come up with are insanely ridiculous, financially burdensome, and completely impossible to enforce. Councilmember Nathan Voris stated this ordinance, which they have apparently been working on for 2 years, is basically a “stopgap” measure. How inane is that? The board wanted a resolution, but the ordinance is only a temporary solution that will be used for a short period of time and then replaced by a better ordinance. I just don’t get it. Voris then goes on to cite a random and rare case of rabies in California where a girl was “likely” infected by a feral cat. This is at most, speculation, as all investigative efforts by law enforcement and animal control officers turned up no rabid cats.

(Report Comment)
Connie Kelly July 11, 2011 | 2:50 p.m.

Misguided is a mild adjective describing the new Columbia feral cat ordinance. As a feral cat caretaker I am completely dumbfounded by how far off the mark the city founders are with this legislative effort. Everyone who has even a modicum of knowledge about feral cats knows it would be impossible to "trap and annually test the cats for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus" as required by the new law, not to mention what a waste of time and caretaker funds it would be. Also, there is a large amount of evidence pointing to the fact that tests for feline leukemia in cats sometimes generate false positives so testing could result in healthy cats being killed due to erroneous test results.

You would think after 2 years of writing and re-writing this ordinance they could have at least done some research on the actual public health risks that feral cats pose. There is no evidence that they pose any higher risk for disease than domesticated cats. The fact that there were only 4 US cases of rabies in humans in 2009 should refute the common myth that feral cats are spreading rabies at an alarming rate.

You are at much higher risk of contracting rabies from raccoons, bats, skunks and other wild animals than any cat, feral or not. I would like to know who is going to TNR the skunks. Do we have any volunteers?

There is no way to estimate the amount of money feral cat caretakers are saving the city by doing TNR and stopping the natural increase that would result from feral cats breeding unchecked. All responsible TNR efforts already include the trapped cat being vaccinated at least once in its short lifetime for rabies and being spayed or neutered. These efforts cost the city NOTHING. The financial responsibility for these actions is being shouldered completely by feral cat caretakers and other not-for-profit pet rescues in our area.

Does anyone understand the point of this ordinance because what is clear to me is that it will increase the burden on the city departments who are tasked to enforce it, using up much needed city revenues and it will handicap the huge volunteer army of feral cat caretakers who reside in and around Columbia. If you don't think there is a large feral cat support community, you are sadly mistaken. The attendance and interest these meetings have generated from cat caretakers cannot be ignored.

The city should repeal this ordinance and get back to spending Columbia tax revenues on matters that would better serve the public. I predict like other hot button topics, this one will fade in to the woodwork because the ordinance has no practical value and it cannot be enforced.

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Moore July 11, 2011 | 6:35 p.m.

Feral cat supporters are misguided. The new city ordinance should be repealed and one enacted banning the feeding of feral cats.

I love cats and have had many as pets. But feral cats are a destructive nuisance and do great damage to the environment.

Feral cats do spread disease and not just to humans. Domestic cats allowed outside at night (or in the daytime, when they should be belled...domestic cats kill songbirds and should either be belled or let out only at night when they will do far less killing) are susceptible to the diseases spread by feral cats. House cats don't catch diseases from other house cats because, by definition, they are kept in a house. Their owners take responsibility for each cat. If a house cat is killing songbirds in the neighborhood, a neighbor can inform the owner of the problem and a reasonable cat owner will take action to prevent their cat from killing songbirds.

The biggest problem with feral cats (which have no natural predators in an urban setting) is that they kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year.

Thousands of Columbians feed songbirds and include bird watching as a hobby. Who among us does not take delight in their songs?

Songbirds are a blessing. Feral cats are an unfortunate nuisance that kill hundreds of millions of songbirds each year.

Feral cat supporters are misguided in their efforts to "manage" the population of these predaceous songbird killers. They are enabling a nuisance.

Most Columbians prefer the delightful sound of songbirds to a city policy leaning towards a silent spring.

(Report Comment)
Shawna Sheeba July 16, 2011 | 12:29 a.m.

Songbirds are killed by many other creatures in nature, Michell. Dont just blame it on feral cats.
And, you want to allow these animals, who had NO CHOICE IN THE NEGLECT AND ABANDONMENT BY THEIR OWNERS, to just die? I watch birds as well (I have a birdbath and bird/hummingbird feeders), and I see a LOT more birds than I do feral cats. Cats are supposed to be domesticated animals, meaning house animals. Birds are not. So, why punish the cats because of their neglectful owners?
Who are you to say a cat has to be "belled"? Collars come in many different varieties. And, please remember, they are ANIMALS with ANIMAL INSTINCTS. My house cats chase flies. Should they be punished for their instincts? Your insensitivity towards these ferals make you look cold-hearted and narrow-minded.
If you want to be a songbird watcher/listener, move out to the country. This is a city, with a REAL problem. NOT with feral cats, but neglectful owners, putting their cats out, and allowing for generations of cats to go untamed.
That is not their fault. Why should they be left to die?

(Report Comment)

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