City seeks feline solution

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011

City staff, working with a group called Cats About Town, will develop a proposal to address the feral-cat population in downtown Washington.

There are some Washington residents and business owners who don’t like what Cats About Town wants to do about the cats.

During Monday’s Washington City Council’s meeting, Monica Ferrari and Nancy O’Neill asked the council to amend the city’s ordinances to allow the feeding of the cats. Currently, those ordinances prohibit the feeding of birds and animals in a specified area of downtown. They also asked the council to allow the use of the TNR procedure to deal with the cats. TNR stands for trap, neuter and return.

“For the last two years, we have trapped numerous cats, including all of downtown Washington’s cats, for the purpose of having them spayed or neutered, tested for feline disease and vaccinated for rabies,” O’Neill told the council. “Only healthy, fixed cats have been released back to their environment with a cropped left ear for identification. Health records, including rabies tags, are always available for public viewing.”

The women propose modifying the ordinances to allow designated caretakers/monitors to provide dry cat food and water for the feral cats in “obscure spots off Main Street pedestrian traffic.” They said food containers and food would be paid for by private sources, not taxpayers.

“Enforcing a ban on feeding downtown Washington cats is difficult, time consuming and poor use of our police department’s limited resources,” reads their request. “There will always be compassionate people who will, in spite of ordinances, continue to provide little food for our downtown cats. Allow the modification of the ordinances so that the TNR Program can continue to be an effective method of population stabilization. Those few remaining cats will stay healthy without reproducing.”

Shannon Blackstone, wife of Washington Realtor Whit Blackstone, who owns Pamlico Properties located in a downtown building with spaces rented to several businesses, opposes amending the ordinances to allow feeding of the cats.

“As a downtown business, we are definitely affected by the feral cats and the issues that come with the feral cats,” she said.

Blackstone expressed concerns that such a feeding/TNR program would attract rodents and create a possible health hazard in regard to rabies. Blackstone also reminded the council that people currently feeding the cats are violating a city ordinance.

One place used to feed the cats is nothing more than a “feral-cat litter box” from which foul odors emanate, she said. The feral cats are sources of fleas that have invaded businesses in the building owned by Pamlico Properties.

Blackstone said she understands there are better things that police officers can do other than look for people feeding cats, but she also believes the ordinance in question should be enforced.

“It is a city ordinance for a reason. When people have been given a warning, like several of their people have been given warning by the police department, and they continue to feed the animals, then I think they deserve to be fined or given a ticket,” Blackstone said.

Scott Campbell, a downtown resident and who works for a real-estate company based downtown, asked the council to keep the ban on feeding birds and animal in the downtown area in place.

Campbell said he sees the cats crossing downtown streets at all hours of the day and night, causing vehicles to “brake or short-stop.”

“It’s definitely a safety issue as far as that concern,” he said.

Campbell also has concerns that if the feeding of the cats is allowed that the feeding of seagulls and other birds will be permitted, too. As a boater, Campbell said, he would oppose such a move because it would add to the problem of the birds defecating on boats using the city’s docks or moored in the harbor.

“If we allow people to begin feeding the cats and feeding the seagulls, downtown is going to look a mess,” he said. “And we’ve worked very hard to clean it up.”

For additional coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions of the Washington Daily News.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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