City drafts new rules, recruits volunteers to curtail feral cats

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City Hall’s feral cat crew is taking shape – if council members green-light the effort next month, volunteers will start tracking and, eventually, taking responsibility for local cat colonies.

“It’s getting out of hand,” resident Susan Moore said. “We’re ready to get ours fixed.”

Kilgore Special Services Director B.J. Owen had a draft ordinance waiting for his growing group of recruits Monday night, drawing about a dozen for the second meeting on the developing Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) Program.

“I like cats,” Owen said. “I have to always remember, there’s nothing healthy about too many cats.”

As drafted, ordinance No. 1728 defines roles for people participating in the program, based on how much effort they want to invest. It sets procedures for monitoring and mitigating feral cat colonies – focused on humanely limiting the population’s growth without killing any animals while also saving the city thousands of dollars a month.

Find the complete ordinance online at KilgoreNewsHerald.com.

Initially, “The truth is they’re going to self-regulate based on how much food they have, how much shelter there is,” Owen noted. The first task is to find out what draws cats to a particular colony: “We’ve got to find out why the cats are there. It’s food, shelter or sex.

“They’re there for some reason; find out what it is and we’ll alter that … What we want to do is reduce that number of cats.”

Crediting the volunteers of Longview’s Gatos Amigos for providing a healthy example to follow, Owen found ready helpers Monday evening among cat owners, colony keepers and others.

”What you do is you stabilize a colony and over time attrition does take its toll,” said Mary Joe Murphrey of Gatos Amigos.

From the TNR program’s volunteers, the most active would be empowered to trap feral cats and turn them over to a designated veterinarian, rather than animal control or a shelter, to vaccinate and neuter the animal. An ear will be clipped (to show the cat has already been treated) and then the animal will be returned to its original territory.

“If not for this program, we’d be doing it on our own,” Jack Moore said.

“We’ve got to do something,” Susan Moore echoed.

In particular, Owen said, the ordinance has been developed to protect the animals and the volunteers. He has pet owners in mind as well – due to the nature of the situation, Owen accepts not every cat that’s trapped will be feral.

If a pet owner lets a cat roam free and there’s a colony nearby, “Your cat may end up in one of our traps,” he allowed. “When your cats comes back clipped, you’re going to be mad at me. That’s the tough part of this. That’s why we have to set up the ordinance for this.

“That’s part of why this is so important. The caretakers have to know the cats in the neighborhood.”

Chipping or clipping pets in advance will help program participants screen them out more quickly.

“That’s one more level of protection you’re providing them.”

Some locals have already assumed a ‘caretaker’ role in providing food, water and shelter to a single feral cat or multiple animals.

“The caretaker has a lot of responsibility because that’s the role they’re taking on as a harborer of that potential health threat,” Owen said. “The ordinance doesn’t change the fact that harboring an animal, feeding an animal more than three times, you’re responsible to make sure that animal is vaccinated,” according to state law.

Under the TNR program, designated ‘Feral Cat Colony Caretakers’ would not only continue feeding the animals but would also document the number of cats, their descriptions, various behaviors in the colony (such as fighting) while coordinating with colony sponsors for trapping times and procedures.

Working with the caretakers, city-approved ‘Colony Sponsors’ would spearhead trapping, alteration and return efforts for their designated groups of cats, reporting data on the colony to animal control.

“The ordinance right now doesn’t allow trapping unless it’s under our direct supervision,” Owen said, while the revisions permit the volunteer-sponsors to do so on behalf of the city and have the animals altered – spayed or neutered – and vaccinated on the city’s dime.

In addition to controlling the feral cat population and, eventually, decreasing it through natural attrition, a key goal of the program is to ensure as many of the roaming cats as possible are protected against rabies.

And, Owen noted, ensuring locals such as David Reeves aren’t shouldering the costs themselves – last year, the downtown retailer covered vaccinations for about 10 cats.

“We didn’t have a program,” Owen lamented. “This’ll be a first for us. I can actually help with some funding, it looks like.”

That decision falls to Kilgore City Council members – the five elected officials will, according to the current schedule, review the draft ordinance during their first, regularly-scheduled meeting in the New Year at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at City Hall.

“The council still has to vote on this. If it’s a no, we’re going to come back to them with a leash-law-equivalent for cats. If that’s what council chooses, that’s still a possibility.”

The meeting will include a public hearing on the ordinance before a vote.

“I need proponents and opponents at that meeting,” Owen said, ready to put the ordinance to the test. From a cost perspective, “Three years ago we were up to 80 cats a month. At $142 per, that’s over $12,000 a month for cats.

After reaching out to local veterinarians for their costs to take on the TNR animals, “Kilgore Veterinary Services has offered the best price for the program right now,” at $59 to vaccinate and spay a female, $49 to vaccinate and neuter a male.

It will mean a substantial savings over time, Owen says.

“Fiscally responsible is the big thing about this. There’s a benefit and a true path to other cities being able to do this also.”

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