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Claws come out over cat roaming rules

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

Animal rights were set in a showdown with property rights on Tuesday evening as the Lockhart City Council grappled with the problem of cat nuisance calls in neighborhoods across Lockhart.

According to Animal Services Director Melanie Tucker and City Manager Vance Rodgers, the city staff and in particular animal control

officers have recently seen a spike in calls from property owners complaining about cat colonies creating a nuisance on their property.

“We have a map of the city, and we are marking that map with push pins when we see or are called to feral cat colonies or nuisance calls,” Tucker said. “Going forward we”ll be in a better position to identify the problem areas and what those problems are.”

Some of the complaints cited, Tucker said, include cats – whether domesticated or stray – wandering unwelcome on properties and antagonizing other pets, urinating and defecating in gardens and children”s play areas, and creating other health hazards.

“Right now, we”re working on a colony in the city yard,” she said. “We”ve trapped… and have found at least one with a fatal disease [feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)]. We have to acknowledge the health risk that is created by those situations with free-roaming cats.”

There may have been some confusion regarding Tucker”s intentions, as several “cat people” from Austin and Round Rock, as well as members of the local group Cause for Paws, which has been sponsoring a “trap, neuter and release” (TNR) program, came forward to educate the council about the benefits of that program.

“You can”t actually remove cats from an area entirely,” said Leticia Stivers of the Austin Humane Society feral cat program. “There is a reason why they are there, whether it be shelter, food or some other reason. The best way to handle them is a TNR program.”

Stivers said TNR programs have been successful in several neighboring cities, including Austin and San Marcos, in that the programs ultimately reduce the feline population.

Tucker and Rodgers both said the TNR program would continue to be supported, but did not provide a short-term solution.

“Some of the calls we get are from people that have neighbors that let their cats roam, rather than about feral colonies,” Rodgers said. “I had one… come to the office and ask me to come outside, where he showed me his new car which he”d just had detailed, with paw prints all over it. To me personally, that”s not a serious complaint. However, to him – it was.”

Several councilmembers shared anecdotal tales of woe concerning roaming animals, both dogs and cats.

Councilmember Richard Banks, however seemed to take a different approach, suggesting citizens who wanted to protect their vehicles from paw prints should “park in a garage.”

“Are we going to round up and kill all the birds?” he said. “What about other animals in nature?”

The other councilmembers, however agreed that residents who don”t own free-roaming cats have good reason to be irritated.

“I don”t know if we”re here to change anything, we just need to reiterate that staff has a job to do and we need to not get in the way and allow them to do it,” District Three Councilmember Lew White said. “If a property owner has a complaint they have just as much right to have their concern addressed as the cat has to roam free.”

Under the current ordinance, Animal Control Officers will respond to nuisance calls by trapping a cat, but allowing an owner or responsible party to claim the animal for a fee paid to the shelter. Upon release of the animal, the owner is educated on the existing ordinances. However, if the cat is found to be a so-called repeat offender, that animal does run the risk of being euthanized.

“The position we”re in now is that people have free-roaming cats, or look after colonies, and our staff gets caught in between disputes between the owners and the angry neighbors,” Tucker said. “What we”re trying to do tonight is to remind the council and the residents what the ordinance is, and how it”s enforced, and if you want to see changes to it, you can give us that direction.”

Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram said he would like to see changes to the ordinance, which currently calls for all domestic animals to be leashed or confined, with the sole exception of cats.

“If they have to have their dogs properly penned, or else they face tickets and fines, why can”t we do that with cats, as well?” he asked.

Both Rodgers and Tucker responded that by their nature, cats are more difficult to contain and such an ordinance would be difficult to enforce.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure that people know that Animal Control has to do their job,” Rodgers said. “They do it as kindly as they can, but sometimes – the end result is not always good.”

During the conversation, Banks pressed Tucker about euthanasia rates at the shelter, particularly where “nuisance cats,” are concerned. Because she said she was approaching the council to discuss nuisance and public health issues, rather than euthanasia issues, Tucker said she did not have figures prepared and declined to address euthanasia questions.

She did, however say that of the nearly 700 cats taken in by the Lockhart Animal Shelter in the last 12 months, 541 of those were as a result of nuisance calls.

In brief news:
The Council approved an increase from $825 to $900 for the Emergency Medical Service transport fee. That fee is the result of an area-wide study of EMS fees and an attempt to bring Lockhart”s fees in line with other areas. No other EMS fees were changed.

They heard a presentation on the city”s second quarter fiscal report.

The council opted not to make changes to the current schedule of impact fee charges.

They approved an ordinance lowering the speed limit on Highway 183 from 60 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour from the current north and south city limits to 1.7 miles past the city limits, for both north and southbound traffic.

The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room of Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner”s local cable Channel 10.

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