Last week the City of San Angelo declared war on one longtime feral cat colony. Animal Control Officers entered a private parking lot to tell a citizen volunteer they could no longer feed their feral cat colony. Officers instructed them to trap and remove all the cats, despite having permission from the property owner to manage the cat colony through a program of Trap - Spay/Neuter - Return.
Animal Control Officers threatened this citizen with arrest for creating a nuisance. First, Animal Control Officers do not have the power of arrest. Second, city animal ordinances speak to how an animal is judged a nuisance. This process involves a determination by the municipal court.
Complaint Procedure: Upon written complaint wherein any dog or other animal is alleged to be a nuisance, as defined in this article, the municipal court of the city shall have the authority to order and hold a hearing upon giving notice to the owner of such dog or other animal and if such court shall determine at such hearing that such dog or other animal is vicious or dangerous to persons or animals or has bitten or attacked any person, or other animal, the court may order that such dog or other animal be kept muzzled; or that same be kept within a sufficient enclosure; or that same be delivered to the Animal Services Director and by him be destroyed; or assess a fine against the owner thereof, as provided herein; or any combination of the foregoing.
Third, City ordinances show the following to be animal cruelty:
"cruelly treated” includes tortured, seriously overworked, unreasonably abandoned, unreasonably deprived of necessary food, water, care, or shelter, cruelly confined, or caused to fight with another animal.
Note that City Animal Control Officers instructed a citizen to stop feeding, i.e. deprive the cats of necessary food and water. Officers ordered a citizen to be cruel to animals.
In addition, the officers did not give the citizen time to act on their instructions. City Officers trapped four cats and removed them from the colony. Three of these were exterminated. These same three cats were spayed/neutered just months ago. Did officers trap the four cats on private property? Did they get the owner's permission to do so?
Many in the animal community are asking why this issue, why now? It's truly not clear. The Animal Services Board discussed feral cats in their February 21, 2013 meeting. No minutes have been publicly posted on the content of that discussion or any action plans the City would enact to deal with feral cats.
The City knew about local efforts to control feral cats, as the item was discussed in the May 2010 Animal Services Board meeting. The discussion showed a number of local citizens addressing the feral cat issue in certain areas of town via Trap/Spay-Neuter/Return.
This method is a humane way to control and reduce the feral cat population and is very effective over time. It's deeply concerning that the City chose to start its new feral cat strategy by intimidating the people in the community already taking concrete action n the problem.
The Animal Shelter did not seek input from, much less provide notice to any local animal organizations. Feral cat volunteers donate their time and significant resources to get feral cats spayed and neutered, provide them veterinary care and ensure they are properly fed. Animal Control officers have distorted local city animal ordinances, falsely claimed powers of arrest and threatened the very people the city should embrace as partners.
This heavy handed approach and execution has little legal basis and appears to be an exercise in intimidation. This citizen deserves a medal for reducing their colony from 100 to 40 in partnership with a local animal organization. They have three quarters of the feral cats spayed-neutered and were working to get the rest fixed with permission from property owners..
Animal Control has other success stories they're choosing to ignore. They could learn from Angelo State University, which has been through several cycles of remove and kill, only to return to a comprehensive trap/spay-neuter/return program run by area volunteers.
The City can learn from those doing the work or they can drive them away. They've already run off one feral cat colony volunteer. How many more will be bullied away?