WARRENSBURG — After hearing from a number of supporters of a trap, neuter, release program for feral cats, the City Council agreed Monday, Sept. 10, to develop an ordinance allowing the program to operate in the city.
Supporters packed the City Council chamber Monday night to encourage the council to adopt an ordinance that would allow individuals or members of rescue groups to trap feral cats, neuter them and return the cats to the neighborhood where they were captured.
Megan Geiger, who works with Alley Cat Allies, said a community known for Old Drum needs to hold animal welfare of utmost importance.
Feral cats are often the victims of various kinds of cruelty, she said.
“We can no longer afford to see them suffer,” she said.
Proponents of TNR say the program is the only humane way to deal with the overpopulation problem.
TNR means the cats will not be reproducing, and returning the cats to their neighborhoods will help keep more feral cats from locating there, they say, eventually drastically reducing feral cat numbers.
Many people in the community are willing to help, Geiger said.
Council members expressed concern that the program may trap some owned cats, but Geiger said the volunteers will make an effort to connect with residents to ensure owned cats are not trapped.
“The city is not liable if an owned cat is trapped,” she said.
A pilot program initiated in Washington, D.C., by the Department of Health trapped 1,600 cats in 18 months, Geiger said.
The program was so successful, she said the Humane Society embraced it and required the shelter to implement TNR.
Geiger said the city has to have an ordinance in order to get grants to fund the program.
She said the ultimate goal is to have a nonprofit organization operate the program and conduct fundraising and educational activities.
One audience member said she owns three cats that were strays and feeds 11 feral cats, who presented her with seven new kittens.
“As a community, it’s our responsibility,” she said. “They are here because somebody left them. It’s our responsibility to see they’re taken care of.”
Michelle Amos, who lives on South Warren Street, said she is a caretaker and trapper of feral cats.
She said she has taken four cats to Kansas City to be neutered.
“I don’t mind paying $35 to get them fixed,” Amos said.
She said it is “inconvenient” to have to take time off work to take the cats to the city.
“It’s hard to convince the cats to get trapped when I have a day off,” she said. “Having a local solution would be an amazing alternative.”
Janis Russell said she has seen the results of a TNR program.
“I lived in a town (in Florida) where it worked very well,” Russell said. “I have seen beaches cleaned up in just one year.”
Sarah Bailey said she lives on Broad Street near the University of Central Missouri where there are possibly 80 to 90 feral cats in the neighborhood.
“Most are not totally wild,” she said, but were left when the owners moved.
Bailey said she would help write grants to fund the program if the city adopts an ordinance.
Councilman Bryan Jacobs said he receives a lot of phone calls about the issue.
He said the city will have to change its current ordinance, which allows trapped cats to be killed after a brief holding period at the shelter, to be eligible to receive grants.
Councilman Casey Lund said other cities have ordinance prohibiting feeding stray cats in order to keep the population down with the goal of not having cats everywhere.
He said some people do not want the cats on their property.
“Is there any protection for them?” he asked.
Councilman Bob Watts said he had heard “pro and con” from residents.
The “pro” side was well represented at the meeting, he said, but an ordinance will have to address concerns of all citizens.
Geiger said she believes an educational program could change opponents’ minds.
“We’re all moving to the same goal of less cats,” she said.
Shelter Manager Sarah Patton said the program would be a benefit to the animal shelter.
The cats will not be reproducing, which means fewer animals will enter the shelter.
City Attorney Doug Harris said, if the council is interested in developing an ordinance, it must decide how rigorously it wants to regulate the program.
“It’s obvious what we have right now isn’t working,” Jacobs said.
He said the ordinance can be changed at any time if problems occur.
Tisha Jackson, with CARRMissouri, an animal rescue group based in Holden, said the city should keep the ordinance really simple.
She suggested the council review a Lafayette County ordinance that is “short and sweet.”
“We have to be cautious and make the ordinance for the entire community,” Lund said.
Mayor Danielle Johnston suggested they start with a model ordinance from Alley Cat Allies.
“I like Alley Cat Allies’ model,” he said.
Lund suggested Harris draft an ordinance.
“As vague as possible. … I would like to keep it as open as possible,” he said.
Harris said he could bring a draft ordinance to the council’s Oct. 8