City ready to explore TNR with PAWS, APE

Cats, or at least discussion of them, again dominated a Jefferson city council meeting. The conversation, which lasted nearly an hour, ended with a plan to make a plan for implementing trap-neuter-release (TNR) in Jefferson.

The discussion was led by Linn Cipperly-Price, founder and director of Animal Protection and Education (APE) charity of Paton and Boone. It came during the open forum portion of the meeting. According to Price, she made a timely request to be placed on the agenda but her request wasn’t filled.

Price served in the U.S. Army as a veterinary technician. Her job was to protect military personnel from diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. She also has a degree in biology. After coming to Greene County, she and other vet techs formed APE. Price said APE is now the number 1 source of feral cat population control in Iowa.

She and someone from the Animal Rescue League of Des Moines talked with Berry and police chief Mark Clouse about feral cats 18 months ago.

Price said Berry and Clouse said then they wanted 18 months to investigate so they could make a sound decision, but according to Price, that hasn’t happened. “After 18 months citizens have been contacting us and they feel like it’s being drug out and they’re concerned that it’s being swept under the rug,” she said.

She asked council members to contact other towns, including nearby Paton, that have implemented TNR. She named Panora, Des Moines, Iowa City, and every town in Boone County as towns that use TNR.

Roberta Brinks of Panora Pets was at the meeting. Panora has used TNR since the early 2000s. “We’ve had literally no problems…. It has been very successful,” she said.

Price told the council about a dozen concerned volunteers met Monday evening and they’re ready to be trained to trap and transport cats, and that APE’s mobile vet clinic is available for spay/neuter procedures. APE’s liability insurance would cover volunteers working on the project. She committed $1,000 in APE funds for a Jefferson TNR project.

She also said she’s been in touch with the Humane Society of the United States, and that group is willing to send lawyers to meet with a city committee to draft the required ordinances for TNR at no expense.

“People want to help. They want to do the right thing,” Price said. “I want you to know there are resources here to help you that will be free.”

Price repeated information shared with the council last summer by Alice Burton of the national Alley Cat Allies organization. She made a distinction between feral cats and stray cats; feral cats are unsocialized and avoid human contact, while stray cats are comfortable with people. Stray cats are sometimes trapped with feral cats. If that happens, the strays are neutered and put up for adoption. Only the unsocialized feral cats are returned to their colony.

Part of the process is to notch one of the cat’s ears to show it has been neutered. Although neutered cats are often calmer than unneutered cats, if cats continue to be a nuisance after they’re returned, they can be removed from the colony and taken “to a farm far enough away they won’t come back,” Price said.

That seemed to allay some of council member Dave Sloan’s worry. At one point in the meeting, Adrienne Smith asked each council member to share his views on TNR.

Sloan said he’s not a proponent of TNR because he doesn’t like the “return” part of it. “I don’t think releasing them solves any part of the problem, but I’m not saying that I can’t support it.”

Harry Ahrenholtz said the council previously couldn’t “come to grips with how we would implement it (TNR).” He said he was surprised to hear there are 12 area residents ready to help.

Council member Matt Gordon said there had been discussions in the past 18 months and they’re looking at a lot of different things. “We just don’t have the answer right now. We’ve formed a committee. We’re working with law enforcement. It’s nice to know there are extra people on board that are willing to help…At this point I’m not going to say I’m against TNR. We’re trying to figure out something that’s good for everybody. I don’t think there’s one solution that’s going to make everybody happy. First and foremost, we want humane treatment for the animals.”

Council member Darren Jackson said he’s not opposed to TNR, but removing cats that continue to be a nuisance has to be an option. He also said he’d like to see volunteer grant writers work to bring in funds.

Council member Matt Wetrich has been an opponent of TNR and has disputed its effectiveness. He and Price clashed early in the discussion and he judiciously backed away.

Resident Phyllis Crowder scolded the council. “Jefferson’s better than this. We’re trying to show off how progressive we are in so many different areas, and then we have this one area that we go backwards with,” she said.

Last January mayor Berry at the end of a meeting declared “the PAWS ladies” should take care of TNR and directed chief of police Clouse to contact PAWS (People for Animal Welfare Society). PAWS pre-dates APE. The two groups have joined forces to find a solution to the feral cat situation.

Price on Tuesday challenged mayor Berry, saying the PAWS board sent a memorandum of understanding to the city at that time. Sloan knew of the memorandum and said the council couldn’t agree to it. Price explained that some sort of a agreement would need to be in place for anyone to apply for grant funds for TNR.

Berry asked if PAWS would “step up to the plate” if the council signed an agreement. He said he would expect the police to continue to enforce animal ordinances, and he advocated for requiring all owned cats and dogs to be microchipped.

The discussion ended with Berry directing council members Gordon and Jackson, chief Clouse and city administrator Mike Palmer to meet with PAWS board members to develop a plan and a budget for TNR, as well as specifying the roles of volunteers and the city. No timeframe was set.

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