"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."