Wednesday, April 21, 2010
At last night's Holyoke City Council meeting, the council voted by a narrow margin (8-7) to send the proposed ordinance prohibiting the feeding and sheltering of any animals outdoors back to committee for public hearing. This was a good and important step, not just because I think the ordinance, as written, should be defeated, but because it gives us a chance to work collaboratively to come up with a solution that can work for people and for cats.
And if last night's meeting taught me one thing, it's this: we have our work cut out for us in helping people understand the plight of feral and free-roaming cats. And it's not just our government officials who need more information...sometimes it's the cat advocates, themselves.
The Holyoke ordinance came about because one individual, in opposition to pleas from his neighbors, orders from the Board of Health, and, finally, a determination from a judge, refused to stop feeding cats on his property in a residential neighborhood.
Unfortunately, despite this gentleman's best intentions, he was not responsibly feeding his feral cats. A responsibly managed colony is fed only at specific times. This prevents wildlife from approaching and helps to control colony size. It also helps the feeder identify new cats immediately so they can be trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and returned (or placed, if social). When feeding time is over, all dishes (except water bowls) should be removed.
Other elements of responsible colony management include: neutering and eartipping all cats, removing and re-homing socialized cats, keeping rabies vaccinations current, and working with neighbors to avoid creating a nuisance.
As animal advocates, we do ourselves no favors by not being willing to look at both sides of an issue and look for common ground. While I'm the first to agree that Trap-Neuter-Return plays an important--even vital--role in reducing the population of feral cats, protecting the public health, and making cats a more welcome presence in a neighborhood, it may not be the right approach every time. In instances where the owner of the property does not welcome the cats or the cats are threatening protected wildlife, we need to look at trap-and-relocate (much more difficult than it sounds) or fencing the colony to protect other animals (a solution that is working in other parts of the country). Check out these communities where feral cat and wildlife advocates are drafting mutually-beneficial legislation designed to protect all animals--feline, wild, and human.
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society is committed to working with trapping experts, community cat lovers, animal control, and government officials in the City of Holyoke to come up with reasonable, long-term, humane solutions that benefit both cats and humans. Dakin can help by providing low-cost sterilization surgery for feral cats at our Community Spay/Neuter Clinic. We can collaborate with experts like Homeless Cat Project to provide training sessions in the community on how to manage a colony--including trapping, feeding, sheltering, vaccinating, and working with neighbors.
If we choose not to work together to find a creative solution for feral and free-roaming cats, we don't have anything to lose. But the cats do.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Because I could not possibly say this better myself, I'm asking you to click on this link to the MSPCA's advocacy page to learn more about how you can help cats in Holyoke.
Holyoke Homeless and Feral Cat Ordinance is Pending