Salina’s cat law needs to be rewritten, according to the supervisor and several residents who say the existing law, passed in 2005, isn’t working the way it was supposed to.
“There are definitely some problems with it,” said Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra. “We’re putting together a committee to take a look at it and to try to put something together that will address those problems. We need to do something to make it viable.”
The original law, Salina Local Law 2005-3, went into effect Sept. 26, 2005. It was drafted to address the growing population of feral cats within the town.
“That was the original goal,” Nicotra said. “We had an issue with feral cats, and the idea was that if we could catch and sterilize them, we could make it less of an issue.”
The original law did address feral cats, defining feral cat colonies, setting guidelines for the registration and care of those colonies and mandating that all adult cats that could be captured be spayed or neutered and vaccinated. However, the law also made an effort to regulate domestic pets. Cats deemed to be a nuisance could be impounded by the animal control officer based upon a complaint and taken to the SPCA.
Linda Young, who operates Kitty Corner, a cat rescue organization in Liverpool, was on the committee that wrote the original law, and she agreed that it has proved problematic.
“The problem is that it’s not being read the way we intended it,” Young said. “What happened was sort of a comedy of errors. The previous board and everybody who worked on the law knew what we wanted — we wanted to address the people with a genuine nuisance concern and to encourage people to act responsibly. That’s what we thought it said. But apparently it wasn’t as clear as we thought — people took it as a leash law for cats, and that’s not what we had intended.”
Both Young and Nicotra lamented the fact that Salina’s animal control officer was not involved in the drafting of the original law.
“That was certainly a problem,” Nicotra said. “She’s the one who needs to enforce this law, so she needs to be involved in any kind of legislation.”
“That was our biggest mistake,” Young said. “She didn’t understand our intentions. What happened then was that if a cat wandered into your yard, and not everyone is a good neighbor, you’d call the animal control officer. Instead of calling us [one of the cat rescue organization designated in the law as an information resource], she’d pick up the cat. The next thing you know, people are paying $70 to get their own pets back.”
Young said the animal control officer needs to be involved in drafting the new law.
“We need to work together so that she not only understands our goals, but her own role in all of this,” she said. “That way she can educate the public on the law and how to deal with it if you are having a problem with a neighbor’s cat.”
Young also said the term “nuisance” needs to be better defined.
“‘Nuisance’ does not mean the cat’s walking on your property,” she said. “It means the cat is causing serious property damage or physical harm. We need to lay that out. People thought this law meant owners should control their cats like you’d control a dog, but you can’t do that, and it’s unreasonable to expect that.”
Young said she was told the committee will likely begin work on the new law in September.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.