Salina has a cat problem, and it’s not going away any time soon.
The town of Salina, in enforcing a law on cats it passed in 2005, has been rounding up cats in response to complaints and dropping them off at the SPCA. Some are feral cats, either running free or in colonies managed by area rescuers, but others are residents’ pets.
“One thing that we have to make clear — the town is not randomly trapping cats,” Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra said. “We’re not setting generic traps in the hopes of catching cats. Any cats that we’ve trapped have been trapped in response to a complaint.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that people’s pets are being trapped without warning.
“Even the most responsible cat owner can’t do much to control where their cat goes and what it does if it goes outside,” said Linda Young, who operates KittyCorner, a cat rescue in Liverpool, and a member of the committee that drafted the law. “But whenever complaints come in relating to a problem with cats in an area or on a particular property, the trapping starts. Residents are not warned ahead of time so that pets can be kept inside, nor are they told after the fact so that those whose pets are missing will know that they need to go to the SPCA to look for them. Cats are held for 10 days before either being put up for adoption or euthanized, and there is no way to know how many pets have been lost. If a pet does end up at the shelter, the owner has to pay $150 to get his pet back.”
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.
However, the term “nuisance” wasn’t clearly defined, meaning neighbors were calling the town’s animal control officer over minor annoyances.
“People took it as a leash law for cats,” Young said. “And that’s not what we intended.”
“It was not intended as a leash law,” Nicotra said. “But because it’s so ambiguous and the term ‘nuisance’ is so vague, it’s being interpreted that way.”
Last summer, Nicotra, Young and several residents, recognizing that the law wasn’t clear, formed a committee to rewrite it.
“We are working on it,” Nicotra said. “We’re working with Linda and with the other cat rescue organizations in the area to try to rewrite the law so it’s clearer.”
However, the law remains the same, and cat rescuers continue to object to the way it’s being enforced. According to Young, the town has trapped 303 cats since January of 2007, spending in excess of $39,000 to have the cats removed to the SPCA. Those who are adoptable are kept for adoption. The feral cats are euthanized because they aren’t tame enough to be adopted.
“In essence, our tax money is being thrown away on a policy that has never worked anyplace and never will,” Young said. “If it did, the number of cats trapped, the number of complaints, and the amounts spent would all be going down. They are all going up, from 80 cats in 2007, to 135 cats in 2008, to 78 cats in just the first half of 2009. It’s like having an overflowing bathtub, but instead of turning off the faucet, you just stand in the hallway mopping up the water.”
Instead, Young said the town should enact a trap-neuter-release (TNR) policy.
“Trap-neuter-return is a protocol where feral cats are trapped and spayed or neutered, then returned to the place they came from — their home territory,” Young said. “They are unable to reproduce, and they keep new cats from coming into their territory, so numbers go down. In fact, numbers fall almost immediately because as many as 30 percent will be abandoned pets who can be taken away and adopted. Another 30 percent will be kittens who can be tamed and adopted. TNR has been done by volunteers in Salina for years. It has been successful, and it has not cost the town a penny.”
TNR is supported by the ASPCA, The Humane Society of the United States, North Shore Animal League, Best Friends Animal Society, and other national animal welfare organizations. Young said TNR programs are carried out by municipalities all over the United States, including the cities of Auburn and Oneida, who contribute tax dollars to volunteer groups for TNR. Young said the groups are hoping for a grant to do TNR in Mattydale.
Nicotra said he wasn’t sure the town could subsidize volunteers’ TNR efforts.
“I’m almost certain that we can’t legally do that,” he said. “But we do have to find some way to address this, because it is costing the town money. If we can figure out a more efficient way to do this, it will save the taxpayers money.”
Young said there are other ways to prevent residents’ cats from damaging neighbors’ property.
“Most problems can be halted with spaying or neutering, and for people who don’t want cats on their property, they are easy to scare away with yelling, noise or a spray of water,” she said. “There are repellants on the market that are very effective, and there is even a device you can hook to your garden hose that is motion activated. Holes in or under sheds and porches can be blocked to eliminate shelter. Removing the cats isn’t the answer, and certainly not with taxpayer money.”
Nicotra didn’t disagree.
“We need to develop a better working relationship with the organizations that help the cats in this town,” he said. “We need to make some progress and make this situation better for everyone.”
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.