When Becky Zinsmeyer let her two cats out on the morning of December 13, 2011, she didn’t think much of it when only one returned before she left for work.
When the other still hadn’t come back by the time the third-grade teacher came home between 6 and 7 p.m. that evening, she began to worry.
Two days later, she let her other cat out to get some fresh air. When he didn’t return by late that night, Zinsmeyer went out to call for both cats.
“I heard a faint cry, and I went next door, checked under some cars, couldn’t figure out where the cat was,” she said. “I went to the next house, and, to my dismay, they had a live trap set out front. On top of it was a piece of tinfoil with a jug of brown liquid. Me not knowing where this trap came from, I assumed they were poisoning my cat.”
But that wasn’t the case.
In fact, the unmarked trap had been set by the town of Salina’s animal control officer because a cat in Zinsmeyer’s neighborhood had been identified as a “nuisance.” Zinsmeyer had never been notified, nor had her cats specifically been singled out as a problem.
Zinsmeyer was one of several residents who appeared before the board to address the town’s controversial cat law, which is Chapter 70, sections 19 to 21 of the town code. Under the auspices of following said law, Salina’s animal control officer has been setting traps throughout the town after receiving nuisance complaints. Those traps have captured cats – some of which are feral, or wild, cats, but some of them are family pets – which the ACO has then transported to the CNY SPCA. If the animals aren’t claimed within five days, the animals can be put up for adoption or euthanized. According to the residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting, neither the animal control officer, the neighbors who made the complaints nor the SPCA made any effort to locate the trapped cats’ owners.
Zinsmeyer told the board she was able to free her cat from the trap in her neighbors’ yard and, through a personal contact at the SPCA, she learned that her other cat had also been trapped and brought there. She had to pay $170 to retrieve her own cat.
“Had I not had this contact, he could have been euthanized, because his fifth day would have been up,” Zinsmeyer said.
Zinsmeyer said no effort was made by the animal control officer to locate the cat’s owner. In addition, the cat that was brought to the SPCA had a puncture wound in his chest that required three staples.
Zinsmeyer said she discussed the issue with her third-grade class at KWS Bear Road Elementary in North Syracuse.
“My students wanted to know, why didn’t my neighbors ask about the cats?” she said. “Why didn’t the town ask me about the cats or post fliers at the five houses that I live around? So when I have 8- and 9-year-olds asking me why a town didn’t promote cohesiveness in their neighborhood, that tells me that those kids know better than the town of Salina.”
Salina Local Law 2005-3
The original law, Salina Local Law 2005-3, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2005, was drafted to address the growing population of feral cats within the town. It defined feral cat colonies, set guidelines for the registration and care of those colonies and mandated that all adult cats that could be captured be spayed or neutered and vaccinated. 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. That aspect of the law is what has proved to be so problematic for so many residents. There has been discussion of changing the law since at least 2008, at which time cat rescuer Linda Young estimated the trapping program was costing the town approximately $20,000 a year.
“All this trapping isn’t necessary,” said Young, who operates Kitty Corner in Liverpool with her sister, Deb. “If somebody has a cat problem, it typically falls into one of two areas. It’s either a population problem where somebody isn’t doing TNR [trap-neuter-release], and there are people out there that will. The other issue is where the cat is on somebody’s property and they don’t want it there. The cat is using landscaping as a litter box. All of these things are natural cat behavior. You can’t change a cat’s instincts, but we do have a lot of ways of keeping cats away from people’s yards or their property.”
Young, who acted as an unpaid consultant during the drafting of the original law, said that she sat down last week with Town Supervisor Mark Nicotra, Second Ward Councilman V. James Magnarelli, Town Clerk Jeannie Ventre and the animal control officer to look at rewriting the law so that it better addressed residents’ concerns.
“We had what I think was a very good meeting,” she said. “We talked about what to do going forward.”
Young pointed out that the original law was a good law in theory; it was the enforcement of the law that was problematic.
“The town chose only to enforce the punitive parts of the law,” she said. “The town chose to take every single part of that law and make it as harsh and unreasonable as possible.”
Magnarelli noted that there would be another meeting between himself, Young, Nicotra, Ventre and the animal control officer to discuss the cat law. In the meantime, Young agreed that her name and number should be given out as an educational resource to anyone who called in with complaints.
In addition, there will be a public hearing at 6:36 p.m. Monday Feb. 27 to discuss a possible moratorium on one section of the law, Chapter 70, Section 20, Paragraph C, which pertains to caretakers of feral cat colonies and fines to which they may be subjected if they’re found in violation of any section of the cat law.
The audience was highly dissatisfied with the board’s response, or lack thereof, to the main issue.
“This doesn’t address what everybody came here for,” one member of the audience said. “What everybody here is interested in is the issue of trapping. I didn’t hear anything that said that Esther [the animal control officer] isn’t going to trap anymore.”
“I think the agreement we came to is that, anyone that calls or comes in, we’re immediately going to give Linda’s number to prior to anything else,” Nicotra said. “Some of the residents haven’t been as receptive in the past. We’re trying to change that. Unfortunately, some people aren’t going to do that. We’re trying to change it.”
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.