Council delays cat issue

Published 12:33 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Washington’s City Council decided Monday to further explore the city’s options regarding the future of a trap-neuter-release/feeding program for feral cats in the downtown/waterfront area.

The decision to seek more information, including decriminalizing the feeding of the feral cats, came after about an hour of remarks by supporters and opponents of the TNR/feeding program. The great majority of speakers favored the decriminalization option and continuing the TNR/feeding program.

Currently, a city ordinance prohibits the feeding of specific animals in the downtown area. Currently, those cats are being fed by the Cats About Town program.

In a memorandum to City Manager Josh Kay, Washington police Chief Mick Reed recommended termination of the trap, neuter and return program operated by Monica Ferrari and Nancy O’Neill, founders of Cats About Town, because it goes against the city ordinance that prohibits the feeding of specific animals in the city’s downtown/waterfront area. Reed’s memorandum left the door open for the TNR program to continue if certain conditions are met.

One option would have the City Council 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. In continuing the matter, the council indicated it wants to further review that option and how to best implement that option.

Margaret Peterson, vice president of the Beaufort County Humane Society, was one of about 10 speakers who favor allowing the TNR /feeding program to continue. At the end of each of those speakers’ remarks, some audience members responded with applause.

“A group of very dedicated and concerned volunteers have managed to trap many of the homeless animals — cats — that were reproducing at an alarming rate,” Peterson told the council. “The trapped cats were spayed, or neutered, and vaccinated for rabies before once again being released. This has been a great service to the city. It has actually reduced costs to the city. Once homeless cats have been fixed, they need to be supervised and fed. We have dedicated volunteers to do this.”

Peterson contended that, nationwide, statistics show that a colony of feral cats can be beneficial.

“To think all of a sudden that we can stop feeding them is ludicrous. To just randomly kill them will only create a void that will be filled by other cats arriving,” Peterson said. “Municipality after municipality is now participating in trap-neuter-release programs.”

Pam Byrd, a co-founder of Saving Grace 4 Felines (which operates mostly in Pitt County), also spoke in support of allowing the TNR/feeding program to continue. Byrd said it’s her understanding that other options were used to address the feral-cat population in Washington, but they failed. Byrd said it’s her experience that TNR programs are effective.

“I would just ask you continue the TNR program because it doesn’t cost the taxpayers of Washington one dime,” Byrd said.

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. She’s previously expressed concerns about food being “left out” for the cats attracting rodents, foul odors emanating from one feeding site she described as a “feral-cat litter box” and the cats being sources of fleas that have invaded businesses in the building owned by Pamlico Properties.

“At the last city council meeting where the cat issue was brought up, it was stated by the TNR people that food would be put out and monitored so that no food would be left out unsupervised,” Blackstone said. “That’s not what’s happening at all.”

Blackstone distributed photographs related to some of the issues she discussed to council members. Some of those photographs, Blackstone said, show damage caused by feral cats to an awning on a downtown building (222 Stewart Parkway) owned by Pamlico Properties.

“My issue is at what point, since the City Council approved this program, is the city going to start being responsible for the damage that the cats are doing, whether it be to a building that we’re in or to somebody’s car,” Blackstone said.

Blackstone expressed concerns that people who learn that cats are being fed in the downtown/waterfront area will drop off cats they no longer want or litters of unwanted kittens in that area.

“Because this downtown program is in place, at what point in time are we just going to be a drop-off site for people come and just drop (off) cats?” Blackstone asked. “I do think that the TNR program — the people have their hearts in the right place, and what they are trying to do is a good thing.  I don’t think that these cats need to be in a downtown area.”

Blackstone suggested moving the cats to a farm or establishing an adoption program for the feral cats.

Blackstone, one of two speakers who expressed concerns about the TNR/feeding program, suggested the TNR/feeding program be terminated.

“I don’t think it’s something the city needs to continue with because I don’t think everything is in order,” she said.

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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