Augusta City Council not quick to adopt program

The Augusta City Council spent considerable time in discussion last night before a crowded meeting room in regard to a “trap/neuter/return” (TNR) program for feral cats.  
Ward 3 council member Sue Jones proposed the program last month and the idea has had stirred a great deal of response to both sides of the issue.
Addressing council at last night’s meeting was Sue  Schamp, TNR coordinator for Friends of Felines Kansas in the Wichita area.  She kicked off her presentation with, “I know a lot.  Cats are all over the world and have been around for hundreds of thousands of years...we need to take emotions about cats outside.  This is not an issue about cats.  It’s a problem that needs solved.  Emotions have no place. I know that you got emails against the program.”  
She explained the program promotes a  healthier community by reducing the number of unvaccinated animals roaming free and that the program improves the lives of the cats, as well.
“Cats are scavengers and they gather where there is food,” she said.  “I advocate that there be specific feeding times and food is not left out all the time.”
She cited an informal survey in Wichita with caregivers before and after the TNR implementation and there has been a 28 percent decrease of cats in a short period of time.  
“Once fixed, there is no more reproduction, no fighting or spraying,” she said. “This is the best way to deal with the problem.”
She also shared the names of 15 organizations that advocate TNR.
Jones shared that in a recent conversation with Dr. Mike Cocke of the Augusta Animal Clinic, he agreed to spaying/neutering and providing a rabies vaccination to two cats a week under the city’s current contract.
Jones said, “That’s a reasonable compromise. He suggested a trial period of three months and  specifying a target area.”
Councilman Matt Malone wanted to know if a trial could be done under current city ordinance and Councilman Mike Rawlings asked who would be responsible for the cats of the TNR program, as no one owns them currently.
City Attorney Austin Parker responded at this point he is not sure to what extent the city’s involvement will be and he will contact any participating communities to see  how the program is handled.
“I spoke with a former Kansas City emergency room nurse who treated several cat wounds in people in the downtown area, where they were using the TNR program. The bites resulted in bad infections and sizeable medical bills. I want to know will we be on the hook for that?” asked Rawlings.
Schamp responded, “Those cats don’t want to be around people and as no one touches them, there is a low risk. They are not pets.  People should not be approaching those cats.  I’ve never heard of feral cats hurting people.”
“I don’t want to leave the city or taxpayers open to liability,” Councilor Paul Belt stated.
Jones said, “I have the perfect colony behind my business.  There’s 12-15 cats and we could use them for the trial.”
Councilman Cale Magruder spoke next, saying, “My opinion on this has been noted. I appreciate the passion. We’ve done research and studies can be cited for both sides. As a representative of Ward One, all the comments I’ve heard have been negative. They don’t want a feral cat colony in their backyard and one lady has one  now that she can’t get out of her yard. I’m concerned about liability and I’m not willing to be at risk and I certainly don’t want my 6-year-old daughter to be harmed. I’m for moving against this issue.”
“These cats don’t want to be petted or touched. The notion of biting or scratching is not relevant,” Jones said.
“In all respect, I had a colony under our porch because someone fed them.  Another resident told me the same thing.  It is not acceptable,” Magruder replied.
Parker explained the present city code states feral cats are not provided for and items concerning the number of animals a resident can keep and the fact they have to have licenses would mean changes or amendments to the ordinances.
Councilman Ron Reavis asked, “What kind of message are we sending to the responsible cat owners who license and vaccinate annually?  If we are going to trap feral cats, take them up for shots and release - aren’t we setting up a double standard? Leaving emotions out - I wasn’t aware of a feral cat problem downtown.  Sue (Jones) has a colony because she’s feeding them.  Why aren’t we talking about skunks and possums downtown? Let’s be humane about it. Why are we just talking cats?”
“We’re trying to address the problem of over population. Trapping and killing is not successful...the whole point of this is not to produce a super class of kitties because they live behind Sue’s business. We have no rats and mice. I’m just astounded that it’s become emotional.  It’s a simple solution to over population - that is the whole point...I’m an animal lover.  I’m compassionate and if the worse thing I do in life is to feed kitties, than so be it...for the life of me, I don’t understand why it’s  hard for council and the community to figure out,” Jones said.
Councilor Jamie Crum shared she is aware of at least three colonies of feral cats near downtown and asked if people would stop feeding the cats, would they leave?
Rawlings proposed to table the issue for two weeks in order for staff to gather more information concerning the city’s liabilities and necessary ordinance changes.
Council members approved 7-1, with Magruder casting the no vote.
More information on Monday’s council meeting will be in Thursday’s  edition of the Times-Gazette