ALAMOSA—Local animal lovers are leaving their paw prints on a city ordinance amendment primarily dealing with feral cats.
Several area residents met with Alamosa City Manager Heather Brooks, Alamosa Police Chief Duane Oakes and City Attorney Erich Schwiesow during a work session Monday evening to revise the ordinance, which the city council tabled until it could gather further input from local residents.
A revised version will go before the council during its April 19 meeting.
Residents stressed to the city administrators that they wanted cats treated as humanely as possible, that local animal groups be involved in responses to cat problems and that euthanizing cats be used as a last resort.
Those are also goals of the city, administrators told the group. In fact, the city cannot — and has no desire to — handle the cat problem on its own, Brooks said. She said the city would rely heavily on volunteers like those associated with Cats Alive to maintain and control feral cat colonies and trap, spay/neuter and release. The city will provide funding for traps and veterinary costs to spay/neuter feral cats, Brooks said, but will rely on the volunteer groups to actually get the job done.
She said the city might budget something like $2,000-3,000 annually to help with the spaying and neutering of feral cats.
She said the public/private partnership would be the only way this effort will be successful.
“We have very limited physical manpower to take this on,” Brooks said, “which is why volunteer efforts are so important to the city.”
Before the recently proposed ordinance amendment to the animal control ordinance, the city made no provisions for cats, feral or otherwise. The city allows four pets per household, which could include a mixture of cats, dogs and other animals. Feral cat colonies, cared for by volunteers, were not legal.
Brooks said rather than just turn a blind eye to feral cat colonies, Schwiesow thought it was best to incorporate and legitimize such operations. Brooks said the city tried to make the ordinance as humane as possible.
The proposed ordinance amendment provides for feral cat colonies through folks willing to sign up with the Alamosa Police Department to sponsor the colonies and cooperate in spaying/neutering the feral cats.
Several members of the working group Monday said inroads have already been made around town in spaying and neutering feral cats, some by individuals paying for the costs on their own and some through organizations like Cats Alive. One resident said she has been feeding abandoned cats out of her own pocket for some time and has spayed and neutered many of the cats, some of which were abandoned by renters when they left a nearby apartment complex.
Brooks said the city and humane organizations can work on education, but there will always be irresponsible pet owners like those at the apartment complex who move away and leave their cats behind.
She and Chief Oakes said nuisance situations would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Brooks said some neighbors are more tolerant of stray cats than others and some are willing to wait to see how effective the spay/neuter efforts will be. Oakes added that just because a neighbor thinks a cat is a nuisance does not mean the situation meets the nuisance criteria of the ordinance. He added that each case would be dealt with individually.
Those attending the April 3rd work session thanked the city leaders for working with them and said this was a step in the right direction. Some of the concerns they wanted to make sure were heard and incorporated into the ordinance were: keeping free roaming cats from being impounded (the city has no pound or shelter for cats, which reduces the options if cats are found to be nuisances and are picked up by the city animal control); involving local animal organizations in resolving problems with a nuisance cat colony before resorting to euthanasia; and if the last resort of destroying an animal must be taken, make sure it is accomplished humanely by a qualified veterinarian or vet tech.
Other input included: make education a priority to help people be more responsible pet owners; when there are nuisance complaints, allow animal groups to visit with the person making the complaint to see if they could help resolve it (Brooks said some property owners want to be anonymous and others are willing to work with the city and other groups); keep in mind the problems with relocating feral cats, because they will try to get back to where they were before; and encourage cat owners to identify their pets with collars, tags, chips, etc., so they will not accidentally get picked up.
Schwiesow said he would share another revised draft with the interested animal groups and individuals before the council votes on it and asked for any further input on the ordinance by April 14.
Brooks said if there were comments the city staff did not incorporate into the ordinance, they would still share those with city council so the council would have all the information available before making a decision.