Cat lovers of Columbia, you have been had!
Early last month, your City Council amended Columbia’s animal control codes by adopting new rules and regulations governing the care and feeding of feral cat colonies.
The council did smile favorably on us though by banning as pets lions, tigers, primates and venomous reptiles and spiders. I already feel much safer knowing my neighbor is barred from caring for Bengal tigers, rattlesnakes and brown recluse spiders.
This ordinance requires a Columbia resident caring for feral cats to apply for a caretaker permit, spay or neuter the animals, mark them with a microchip or ear tip and ensure the feline melange is kept on private property.
While I don't doubt for a moment that some “cat people” will line up willingly to pay for the neutering, spaying, microchipping, ear tagging and disease testing, many will opt out for reasons of expense, liability and dislike of bureaucracy.
This is indeed unfortunate inasmuch as it will deprive scores of kitties of their expected sustenance, setting them upon the bird and small-game habitats instead.
However, the worst and also most amusing consequence of this ordinance is the requirement that the cat colony remain on private property.
I am uncertain as to the feline expertise shared among members of the council, but the notion that any cat, wild or domesticated, can be prevented from crossing streets, going over or under fences or doing anything it darn well pleases is hysterically laughable.
Not only is this mandated herding of cats more than somewhat ludicrous, but who among the caretakers of wild cats is capable of collecting, transporting and holding them for a veterinarian to perform the required alterations, identifications and preventive health measures?
Envision, if you will, an old-fashioned cat roundup on the Katy Trail, wherein the prospective caretakers of feral cats gather their herds around the campfire for singing, branding, neutering, et al. Kinda has a nostalgic ring, doesn't it?
The primary consideration for declaring this amendment of the city’s animal control code to be bad law — correction, not just bad but patently awful — is that it is unenforceable. It is not only impractical and impossible to regulate, it is also foolish to even attempt execution.
I doubt Chief Ken Burton will look kindly upon establishing cat patrols or even a major cat squad. I suppose the clandestine cat operations could be merged with the Columbia Police SWAT Team; however, feral cat caretakers are not normally categorized as “armed and dangerous” or even violent by nature. And, in the incident of an arrest, should the feline colony be apprehended and tagged as evidence?
In the spirit of fairness, I must also take issue with yet another of the rule changes, the one pertaining to runaway pets. As I read it, the owners of domesticated dog and cat runaways are now required to pay for a microchip implant and spaying/neutering if apprehended and impounded. Since Rover is also subject to the city leash law, why are Fluffy and Sylvester given a pass on similar restraint?
I hope this lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek assessment of the statute does not detract from my opinion that it is not only ill-advised but also potentially embarrassing.
I don't doubt for a moment that the council acted with the very best of intentions; however, the unintended consequences far override any possible benefit.
A number of law-abiding citizens, comprising the vast majority, will attempt to adhere to the letter of the law and will either complete the process to be authorized as feral cat caretakers or not, depending on financial ability or other considerations. Those who opt out will unfortunately and/or unwillingly add to the problem by increasing the number of hungry cats foraging for prey.
Whether by nature or by design of these newly added animal control rules, the city is saddled with a regulation that actually addresses a problem by making it worse.
Such is a failing endemic to all legislative bodies, whether federal, state or local: well-meaning efforts to solve perceived problems by establishing unwise or unenforceable regulations.
My intent is not a blanket criticism nor an indictment of Columbia’s city government — I elected to make it my home over all the places I have held residence and am happy with that choice.
Nevertheless, the enacted revision of this statute will take its place among the bicycle harassment ordinance, the anti-smoking law and the establishment of the Citizens Police Review Board as misplaced enthusiasm to fix things that just ain’t broke.
Oftentimes, common sense trumps regulation.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.