Guest commentary by Matt Wetrich: Cats and the JPD

Editor’s note – Matt Wetrich has assured GreeneCountyNewsOnline  that it is not the source of the “incomplete and inaccurate online journalism” to which he refers.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but Jefferson’s name was recently, and is currently, being unjustly dragged through the mud.

Thanks to some incomplete and inaccurate online journalism that is now traveling nationally and beyond, people from all over the country think the fine officers of Jefferson’s police department are raging, cat-killing snipers, supported by backwoods ignorant hillbillies at city hall giving orders to shoot every cat in town, including pets and putting children at danger with their rogue shots.

This is not hyperbole – these comments and many other (and much worse) are being received in phone calls, emails, letters, and all over multiple social media platforms this past week.

These comments have been despicable, heartless, and massively misinformed – yet the effort to seek the truth have been largely lacking from most of these contacts.

Even though my wife Toni and I have received an onslaught of personal attacks, threats, and a variety of other bullying tactics, we have maintained a positive, professional front with folks. Now these personal attacks have started to include our family, disgusting comments about us and our children, and blasting our family photos all over.

I didn’t sign up to serve as a city councilman to back down from being bullied, and I won’t start doing so now.

Toni and I want to express our appreciation for the enormous amount of support and positive feedback from the many people who actually know us, know Jefferson, and know the realities of the feral cat situation in our community – unlike most of those who have sent mean-spirited comments our way.

When the few people who have expressed concerns in a respectful way are informed of the realities of the situation, they change their tone and even express apology for the nastiness that is being undeservingly launched our way.

I still feel that it’s important that some clarifications be made, and some perspective given to our community.

Maybe you’re curious as to why I chose to speak to the Des Moines news stations when they showed up to town. Why risk putting my name out there?

After a discussion with city officials, I felt the city needed a voice to represent us.
I have been an advocate for getting cats off the streets, out of neighborhoods and into shelters and ideally into homes as pets for many years. I am well-read on this topic, and I assure you will continue to be educated on it as the city moves forward on improving our ordinance.

Getting cats off the streets is a benefit to the cats, to the community, and to native wildlife.
Let’s clarify some points on cats in our town and how things have been handled:
– Police officers are NOT patrolling town in some sort of sniper mode, shooting cats from their cars as they see fit.
– The police department has offered a SERVICE to the community to help deal with nuisance animals by loaning out live traps and properly handling trapped animals.

This may be raccoons, skunks, feral cats, opossums, ground hogs, etc.

If it is a native animal and is perceived to be in good health, the officers relocate the animal to a more preferred habitat away from town. If it is a cat, they look to see if it is collared (which by law, should be and should not be off of the owner’s property); of healthy appearance; its overall demeanor.

The officer will do everything in his or her power to take it to the local animal shelter. The LAST thing any of them want to do is have to euthanize any animal. On the rare occurrence they have, it happens maybe once a month – that is a very, very small percentage compared to the number of animals that have been caught and removed.

They are, by trade, protectors – they signed up for this difficult job to protect you – not to kill anyone or anything. Our officers have suffered severe bite and scratch injuries from trying to help cats, putting their own health ahead of the cat’s. Some of our officers have been forced to endure rabies shots – an expensive and painful series of shots.

They should be thanked for offering the services they have to help remove nuisance animals from our neighborhoods, as they try to keep all of and our citizens and pets safe, not belittled because of misinformation that has traveled like a game of telephone.

However, this service has been officially discontinued.

The city has acquired a mobile facility that can handle approximately 30 animals for evaluation. This will be helpful, as our current shelter is more than full of cats and dogs.
I can appreciate the great frustration that many have felt over the long-overdue upgrade of an animal shelter in our county – I have felt that, too.

It’s just one of the reasons I stepped up to serve the community as a councilman and to be a part of positive change. Now it is a go; we are moving forward, and this new facility will be something our community should be proud of and fully support – including financially, and through volunteerism.

The shelter will be a place where cats and dogs can go, and where the fine volunteers of PAWS can safely work to get them into a happy home and life.

Your current city council has a couple of newer faces, including mine. I encourage you to ask questions and get to know us; we care a lot about this community and want to keep the ball of positivity that Jefferson has rolling in the right direction.

We appreciate respectful dialog with those in our community. We want to hear from you but we also encourage proposed solutions, research, and facts.

We will not make decisions based on emotions or inappropriate bullying tactics. We are reviewing city ordinances in several other communities and are working with organizations.

If you are unfamiliar with our current city ordinances on animals, I encourage you to give them a look via the city’s website at cityofjefferson.org.

Please know that your city council will be taking its time and doing its due diligence on this topic, to make a sound decision for you, your pets, and all of our community.

Matt Wetrich, Jefferson city councilman

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