Jeff council talks about stray cats (again)

The Jefferson city council on Tuesday returned to a topic that a year ago resulted in threats of physical violence against one of its members – how to deal with unowned neighborhood cats, or feral cats as some people call them.

The discussion was sparked by an incident last Friday in which a resident on Rushview Drive, which is south of the elementary school, was bitten by a stray cat. The cat was not microchipped and was not wearing a collar. The cat was euthanized and taken to the Iowa State University veterinary college for rabies testing. The cat tested negative for rabies.

Council member Matt Gordon asked to have the discussion. Council member Matt Wetrich, who was the object of vile comments on social media a year ago after he spoke against a trap-neuter-return program, led the discussion Tuesday. He said council members were “ironing out a plan” of how to deal with unowned cats. He said the problem is caused by people who feed unowned cats and give them shelter in rough weather. The plan being ironed out is legal issues of people feeding cats but not having any accountability for them.

The current ordinance allows police to write a civil citation to a pet owner whose cat or dog goes onto someone else’s property off leash. Wetrich said that may be enforced more.
“When it comes down to it, we have to govern for our citizens, and unfortunately, it just doesn’t work to have dogs or cats just going as they please. It just doesn’t work,” Wetrich said.

He wants to make animal control more of a priority for the police department.

Police chief Mark Clouse said the biggest problem his department has seen is the discontinuation of lending live traps to residents last summer. He said residents feel helpless. He advises people to purchase their own live traps to deal with unwanted cats in their yards. Clouse said residents could “find a farm for them, have them euthanized, whatever they chose to do with them. It’s your property. You have the right to take a live trap and take care if it yourself. We just can’t furnish the trap anymore.”

Clouse later said that according to a state statute, “a citizen can, and a peace officer shall, put down an animal that is roaming freely without a tag or proof of ownership.” He also said there’s a local ordinance against abandoning an animal within the city. An animal caught in a live trap can’t be released in town; it has to be taken outside the city limits to be released.

According to Wetrich, trap-neuter-return isn’t a viable option. “Returning them doesn’t solve the problem of them causing problems for the neighbors. It isn’t addressing a lot of the issues.”

Ann Wenthold spoke for all the members of P.A.W.S. She reminded the council that the current shelter is licensed for 12 cats and it is always at capacity. With limited help from police, more people are calling P.A.W.S. for help. “We have the problem of 5,000 people calling us saying ‘We have a cat running lose. Fix it.’ We can’t. We can’t do it.” She said.
Wetrich said there needs to be more discussion of where cats that are the subject of complaints should be taken.

Wenthold vented frustration with the situation. “I feel P.A.W.S. is stuck in the middle because the community thinks we don’t do anything. We know we can’t do anything. We’re not getting any help from anybody, yet we’re the ones who along with the cops are answering the calls from these people. You’re going to have to tell us what to tell these people. It has to be handled. We’re getting bombarded with this and every year it gets worse.”

She called P.A.W.S. “a tiny group of people who just keep getting shot down. We just need to know what we’re going to do.”

Wetrich suggested he and Wenthold have the long conversations needed to come up with a solution to the problem of unowned neighborhood cats.

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