J. KARL MILLER: Feral cat ordinance is misguided and unenforceable

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 | 3:21 p.m. CDT; updated 7:31 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 17, 2011

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

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Paul Allaire August 17, 2011 | 3:53 p.m.

I was really agreeing with you until you got to those last couple of sentences.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble August 17, 2011 | 5:02 p.m.

Well said! I agree with the sentiments expressed here. It doesn't seem like an ordinance that will either work well or solve the problem, and those would seem to be the bare essentials for an ordinance to pass.

While I've supported the three other initiatives you mention at the end, they are examples of how everything comes with a price. As a frequent cyclist myself, my experience has been that things are better after the new rules than before (apart from a brief spike in driver intolerance at the peak of the bicycle debate). I don't think it was ever designed to be routinely enforced, rather to be available as a recourse if an altercation occurs, and in the meantime it seems to do no harm and takes no resources.

But the smoking ordinance isn't a perfect fix. Before, I would be exposed to smoke if I went inside certain businesses; now, I am exposed to smoke anywhere I go downtown, outside, because the sidewalks are now lined with exiled smokers who go right outside the door to smoke. I don't go home with smelly clothes, but I'd say on an average downtown visit I'm exposed to much more smoke than before. So it's better for employees, but a mixed bag for the public. As for the police review board - it seems to be a work in progress, in growing pains, an experiment worth trying that may not end up worth keeping.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox August 17, 2011 | 5:12 p.m.

Agreed, unenforceable, misguided, time-waster.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 17, 2011 | 6:08 p.m.

Miller ponders, " 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."

I laffed out loud at this...mainly because I immediately had visions of the Blazing Saddles city-council-catboys-eatin-beans-around-the-campfire-fart-scene complete with Slim Pickens and the soft mewing of a contented cat herd in the background.

We need a home for these cats to stay. I guess we would call it a cat house, but that might attract unintended visitors confused about its purpose.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 17, 2011 | 6:10 p.m.

I'm gonna put the Blazing Saddles DVD on RIGHT NOW!

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller August 17, 2011 | 8:00 p.m.

Mr Allaire, should we ever agree, we would both be wrong. That is a path I don't wish to tread.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall August 17, 2011 | 8:08 p.m.

Feral cats are a huge problem, but this is not the fix for it. As you say, it's ludicrous.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop August 17, 2011 | 8:12 p.m.

This is a huge problem at our Condo. We have 26 acres with four, twelve story buildings. The property is very wooded, and divided by a stream. We have alot of farm and forest land around us. The problem comes when owners feed the cats at will. This results in a huge influx of cats from all over, neutered or unneutered. It is simply impossible to keep track of them all. Add to that owners that chip cats to their address.

What has to be done is strict regulations on WHERE, WHEN, and HOW MUCH they are fed, and fines imposed for violations. A limit on the number of cats must be established. The Humane Society/SPCA must be prevented from allowing anybody to chip more than the allowed number of animals. Chipped animals not registered to that property that return more than twice should be disposed of, as well as unchipped animals. This will prevent an area from being overrun. Inspections by health officials must also be implemented. Your nose can usually tell you who the problem cat people are when you get close to their residence. For those who think this really isn't a problem, try this out:

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 17, 2011 | 9:22 p.m.

I'm not familiar with feral cats, unless the most ferocious beast I trapped while trying to reduce the presence of raccoons from our north Columbia residential deck was one. I was thankful it was inside, but would have traded places if shown the fierce attitude of this cat while loose. Last night I was here writing my usual witty remarks on the Missourian, when two sounds made me aware. Jumping up, turning on the light, revealed four 'coons trying to taste (I imagine) the "q" sauce left on my grill. After my stomping and yelling, I would say they "tipped their hats and slowly walked away." We have had them in our attic twice. I left an open access in carport and did not know that they could walk across the ceiling to get there. Next ordinance please include the 'coons.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop August 17, 2011 | 9:32 p.m.

Frank, if you ever watched Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett on Disney, well, you know what to do.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 17, 2011 | 9:33 p.m.

@Michael Williams:

I had the same thought you did, but mine concerned a TV drama (1959-1965) rather than a motion picture.

Trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) and his right-hand man Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) and Favor's wranglers have their hands full herding cats from Texas to Dodge! :)

"I've seen cattle spooked by lightning, but that's nothing compared to having cats spooked by rain."

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance August 17, 2011 | 9:51 p.m.

Money waster, like those silly "safety" cameras. Trying to stir up the next wedge issue eh Colonel? Invading someone's home and shooting their dogs was proof enough a Citizens Police Review Board was needed. As for common sense, I still don't get why someone rails on socialist and liberals doesn't feel a bit hypocritical when cashing their government pension check. I still don't get people that don't have any true wealth, talk and act like they do, to the determent of their own economic self interest.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 17, 2011 | 10:32 p.m.

TimD puzzles, "I still don't get people that don't have any true wealth, talk and act like they do, to the determent of their own economic self interest."

I know. And I doubt you will, either, until you practice the asset and financial philosophies of those who are becoming wealthier...and accumulate some wealth of your own.

Of course, then you have to deal with those who want what you earned without doing the same things you did.

I don't feel Mr. Miller is being hypocritical at all. After all, he *earned* his retirement by getting shot at...all for you. Personally, I'm giving him a pass on this issue.

Not you, tho.

As for the cat problem, those out in the hinterlands of the county seldom have a feral cat problem, unless they want a few in their barns to control rodents. Farmers are so much more sensible and humane about solving this problem than those in the city. Same thing with the dogs you city-folk dump on the side roads.

Why just the other day I was driving on a dirt road down by the river, and a young pup on the road ahead of me happily ran towards my car...thinking it was *master* coming back to love him. I drove on...but I hope he is not suffering anymore.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop August 17, 2011 | 11:54 p.m.

TimD, first, I doubt you have any idea of what Col. Miller's personal net worth is. Second, in this democratic republic, our real wealth lies in our liberties. A man living debt free in a trailer might feel more free than the billionaire with a million worries. That being said, Col. Miller earned his retirement check doing WORK that you would never have had the stamina nor the courage to perform, and all at a pay rate that was normally below the prevailing minimum wage if you calculated the hours he spent on the job. And I know on at least four occasions that work was recognized at having been performed in combat at the risk of his life.

Your view of hypocrisy borders on stupidity accompanied by gross ignorance.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley August 18, 2011 | 1:10 a.m.

J. Karl Miller: "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."

Well why not? If SWAT is good enough for the casual pot smoking, pot head; then they are good enough for "Cat Patrol"! Maybe they could kick in the doors of the a few cat owners homes and spray the little kitties with their MP5s? Smaller targets, better practice, right J. Karl?

Just think, SWAT can now be a permanent fixture in our neighborhoods. Perhaps they could even establish satellite offices in various places in the city that have high cat populations....

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 18, 2011 | 5:53 a.m.

Hypocrisy is always a condition someone else is guilty of.

I suspect Karl doesn't actually cash his government check: he uses electronic transfer like the rest of us. :)

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 18, 2011 | 7:05 a.m.

Mike W.- I remember the farmer that purchased a newspaper ad to say something like, To the person who dumped two cute puppies in front of my house after dark last night. As you expected, I gathered them up, fed them and settled them in my barn for the night. I just wanted you to know that this morning I shot them both!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 18, 2011 | 7:39 a.m.

Feral cats will exist and thrive in an urban setting whether anyone feeds them or not. There is ample food in refuse, and cats are good hunters to boot. It is unfortunate that some feel that placing legal burdens on the few feral cat feeders out there will make any difference in the problem.


(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller August 18, 2011 | 8:27 a.m.

Ellis, Do I detect a familiarity with Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary in "Hypocrisy is always a condition someone else is guilty of?"

(Report Comment)
Mitchell Moore August 18, 2011 | 9:23 a.m.

I love cats, but feral cats are a menace and kill over 100 millions songbirds each year in America. These unfortunate creatures need to be irradicated and not "managed". They spread disease to domestic cats and humans. I recently had a friend hospitalized for an infection she received after being bitten on the leg by a feral cat she had been feeding and thought she had befriended.

Of course, domestic cats will kill songbirds and should not be allowed outside during the daytime unless they have a bell on their collar.

Feral cats have no natural predators in the city. It is ludicrous to have any "policies" or "ordinances" regarding them that does not simply forbid the maintenance of wild well as wild dogs. Give the job over to Animal Control...unless you favor songbird carnage and a silent spring.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 18, 2011 | 12:29 p.m.

Karl Miller really said...

"Mr Allaire, should we ever agree, we would both be wrong. That is a path I don't wish to tread."

Well then obviously I was completely wrong about the issue of cats. Therefore the city should take up Mr. Gurley's suggestion and permanently assign a contingent of the SWAT team to patrol for those freeloading felines and whenever someone is found to be aiding or abetting such they should be immediately confined and sent to IRAQ!!! (or Don Milsop's condo, whichever is worse)

And a thousand thanks Don, for finally disclosing your location. I can now safely buy another property without the fear that we will eventually be rubbing elbows. I am much relieved.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop August 18, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.

Paul, your slum properties would not allow you to touch anything here in Hawaii. The medium price for a home on Oahu is $629,000, and condos 320,000.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop August 18, 2011 | 3:11 p.m.

Mitchell, so it could be that cats are killing even more endangered species than green wind generators?

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.