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.
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.”