Cat-scratch fever

In an effort to deal more humanely with the growing population of feral cats and the people who care for them, the town of Salina is considering a new law that all but eliminates the possibility that cat caregivers could be prosecuted or held civilly liable for damage or injury caused by wild cats under their care.

The move to rewrite the local law was prompted by a January court case in which Linda Smith, of Garden City Drive, was fined $400 because the feral cats she fed had allegedly fouled her neighbors' lawns and damaged their property.

"After the Linda Smith trial, we knew something really, really needed to be done," said Linda Young, owner of Kitty Corner, a cat-rescue operation in Liverpool.

Young spoke at a public hearing before the town board on Aug. 23 at Salina Town Hall on School Road.

"We were all shooting ourselves in the foot," Young said. "Instead of using a little advice, a little intervention, we were using the law in a heavy-handed way."

So, Young and other members of the CNY Cat Coalition worked with town Attorney Robert Ventre and Councilor V. James Magnarelli to rewrite the town's cat control ordinance.

The rewritten law, which will be discussed again when the public hearing continues at the board's Sept. 13 meeting, strikes sections that called for "immediate prosecution" of feral cat caregivers after wild cats damaged property. A section, which gave property owners "private cause of action and right of recovery" in civil cases against caregivers, was also struck from the proposed ordinance.

Feral cats are wild, afraid of humans and unadoptable. They will accept food from human caregivers, however, who are urged to feed the wild cats on a regular schedule and in reasonable quantities.

The town has been spending money to trap trespassing cats, Young said, "and that's a waste of money. The town could do better by stepping in to make sure these cats get spayed and vaccinated."

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