Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CAT FIGHT: Leaders in stray cat debate dispute how new law was designed

COLUMBIA, 7/20/11  (Beat Byte) -- Earlier this month, Mayor Bob McDavid told KRCG News he expected Columbia City Council members to kill the city's new feral cat bill.  "I have to say that 100% of the correspondence I’ve received has been against this ordinance, feeling that it is over-regulation, and that these people are just feeding animals out of sympathy," McDavid said. 
"A reasonable ordinance disintegrated into its current disastrous form," Spay, Neuter, and Protect (SNAP) board member Christina McCullen told the Columbia Heart Beat. 
And in a letter to city leaders, Central Missouri Humane Society executive director Dr. Alan Allert, D.V.M. "said the proposed animal ordinance has too many financial burdens on the caretakers of feral cats," KRCG reported
With the exception of Health Board members, every person who then testified before McDavid and fellow Council members panned the new ordinance
Calling the testing and micro-chipping mandates "impossible" to manage with his limited financial resources, Atish Sen, who actively spays, neuters, and vaccinates feral cats, told Council members that with the new law, "essentially you have lost not only me, but a fair number of people who would have otherwise helped with the control and management of feral cats in this community." 
Yet Columbia-Boone County Board of Health (BOH) members Harry Feirman and Nathan Voris, DVM, MBA insist that in designing the feral cat ordinance from May 2009 onward, Board members worked closely with the community, including opponents such as McCullen and fellow SNAP representative Anita McIntyre. 
Incompetent journalism?
To help make his point, Feirman blasted this publication for its coverage of protests about the new law. 
"Before printing your one-sided inflammatory should have contacted the Board of Health to obtain background on the matter...and the process undertaken to obtain input from the various community groups involved in the issue," emailed Feirman, who did not identify himself as a Board of Health member.   "I guess that kind of digging requires too much effort, and would result in an article that would move the discussion forward rather than simply make for tabloid reading.  You do a tremendous disservice to the community with such incompetent 'journalism.'" 
Our story, this writer explained to Feirman, was not about Board deliberations, but the ordinance as written and the protests surrounding it.   
What's more, "I read the 53 page transcript from the public comment period and found only ordinance opposition," I wrote.  "In fact, from everything I've read, the input you received from organizations involved in the feral cat ordinance was opposition." 
In a subsequent explanation, Feirman said SNAP members "indicated they were open to registration fees and permits, regulated perimeters for feeding, neutering, trapping, testing, vaccinating, ear clipping, and possibly using micro chips to identify cats."
"They provided copies of ordinances from other cities, such as those for Santa Cruz County that require all trapped cats tested for feline leukemia and feline immune deficiency virus," Feirman explained.  "We also researched the positions taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association and consulted with local vets."  
Voris agreed.  "We included SNAP representatives from the beginning and the [feral cat ordinance] was crafted from example ordinances provided to the subcommittee by SNAP," he told the Heart Beat. 

Oppressive ordinance?
SNAP representatives did speak before a Board of Health subcommittee, but only one time two years ago, McCullen told the Heart Beat.  "This was our only input on the ordinance, so I am surprised to hear that we reportedly had such an important role in drafting it," she said. 
Though SNAP did agree to cat identification micro-chipping provisions if they didn't have to pay for the microchips, "we spent quite some time telling the BOH subcommittee that we could not afford the various recommendations discussed," McCullen said.   
Rather than craft an ordinance that draws the best concepts from sample laws SNAP provided, the BOH "used these examples to craft an ordinance that includes EVERY possible regulation," McCullen said.  "We now have one of the most oppressive ordinances in the nation." 
One provision she calls "laughable" involves revocation of the required feral cat permit. 
"When a caretaker's permit is revoked, they must move the feral cat colony to another colony that has a permit,"  McCullen said.  "This is laughable -- the cats wouldn't necessarily stay where they were moved, and a war would break out between the existing colony and the new cats." 
Most importantly, however, the new ordinance discourages Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) programs proven successful nationwide.  "We would not have agreed to an ordinance that is designed to discourage and eliminate TNR programs," McCullen said. 
For his part, Feirman concluded with an aside on this writer's email signature, which includes two degrees after my name (a common practice in science and health care journalism).  It sounded a bit feline, a little like a hiss and a swipe.      
"I am impressed by your listing of degrees," Feirman wrote.  "I think you have lived too long in a university community." 

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