Feral cats on council’s agenda

Published 1:31 am Sunday, January 8, 2012

Washington’s City Council is tentatively scheduled to address the feral-cat issue during its meeting Monday.
In a memorandum to City Manager Josh Kay, Washington police Chief Mick Reed recommends the trap, neuter and return program operated by Monica Ferrari and Nancy O’Neill, founders of Cats About Town, be terminated because it goes against a city ordinance that prohibits the feeding of specific animals in the city’s downtown/waterfront area. Reed’s memorandum leaves the door open for the TNR program to continue if certain conditions are met.
“This does not prevent beginning the operation again in the future, should Council amend the ordinance. If allowed, the program would be under tighter scrutiny and could bring in the business community as partners. However, under the current conditions, it is felt that violation of City and State regulations should not be continued,” Reed wrote in the memorandum. “In addition, feral cat colony management would be in place to improve the chances of overall success of the program. It should be emphasized that the individuals involved with the TNR program are striving to bring success via humane methods of animal control. Their efforts are laudable and this report in no way diminishes their efforts. With amendments to the City ordinance, and planning with the business community and Animal Control experts, it is felt that TNR is a worthy effort to combat an ongoing issue in our community.”
The council is expected to consider amending the city code to decriminalize any penalties for feeding the feral cats and authorize the Washington Police Department and Beaufort County Animal Control to enforce the city’s animal-related ordinances throughout the city.
During a council meeting in September, Ferrari and 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.
“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 then. “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.”
Ferrari and O’Neill 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.
At that meeting, opposition to their request was voiced.
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 then.
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, she said.
The council’s entire agenda may be obtained by visiting the city’s website at www.washington-nc.com. The council meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 102 E. Second St.

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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