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To: Columbia City Council

Fr: Nancy Peterson, Humane Society of the United States

Subject: Effectively Managing Feral Cats in Columbia MO

Dear Columbia City Officials:

I have been contacted by city residents who are concerned about proposed changes to your animal control ordinance. I have read Article VI and would like to thank you for supporting the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) to manage feral and stray community cats. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), with more than 11 million constituents nationwide, supports TNR.

Although it is unlikely that available city funding and manpower could be devoted to effectively managing community cats, volunteer caretakers fortunately exist for TNR efforts. Caretakers already face obstacles finding affordable spay and neuter and providing long-term cat care, and some sections of Article VI will impose additional burdens on them. This is the version of the ordinance that I found online, http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Health/Animal_Control/documents/cb03b_1.pdf.

Sec. 5-111.a.2: microchipping is required.
Microchipping is expensive, and ear tipping is the universally accepted identification for spayed and neutered feral cats. If you are concerned about assisting the reclaim of a feral cat brought to the shelter, his trapping location and description can be matched to the information in your registry.

Sec.5-112.c: requires a permit fee.
I would suggest that you waive the fee.

Sec. 5-112.d: an animal control officer may inspect the private property where the feral cat colony is maintained.
This is very vague. It is my understanding that animal control officers and others acting with apparent law enforcement authority cannot simply enter private property without exigent circumstances (such as investigating screams or yelps evidencing someone in immediate distress, or chasing a dog that poses a risk to public safety) or a legally valid warrant (based on probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime on the premises). This is based on the principles of right to privacy, and the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Permittees/licensees still have a right to refuse the inspection, in theory, but that refusal can be grounds for revocation of the license/permit.

Sec. 5-113.d.2: colony cats be trapped annually.
Please see my comments regarding Sec. 5-113.d.4.

Sec. 5-113.d.3: all cats must be spayed and neutered.
I would suggest that this be worded that “every reasonable attempt shall be made to spay and neuter colony cats.”

Sec. 5-113.d.4: Cats must be tested annually for FeLV and FIV and cats that test positive shall be euthanized or isolated indoors.
By nature, feral cats are afraid of people and housing them indoors would not be practical or humane.

The incidence of FeLV and FIV in feral cats is about the same as that of the owned cat population – 4%. Some feral cat programs test all cats, some only test sick cats, and others only test adoptable cats. Some private veterinarians insist on testing all cats. Although financial considerations are certainly important, other factors should be considered as well. There are several reasons why groups do not routinely test colony cats. The first is logistics. An accurate diagnosis requires two tests at least one month apart to rule out false positives and false negatives.

What do you do with a feral cat awaiting his second test, cage him for a month or let him go and try to retrap him? In lieu of that approach, simply returning the cat back to the colony makes sense since, given the close living situation of feral cats in colonies, most cats in the colony have probably already been exposed to diseases carried by the members. The more important and commanding rationale for not testing is the complex interaction of these diseases with the cat immune systems and the social dynamic of feral colony cats. A cat initially infected with [feline leukemia] has about a 30 percent chance of seroconverting (later testing negative) due to immune response to the initial infection.

Cats persistently infected with FeLV serve as sources of infection. Virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva and nasal secretions, but also in urine, feces, and milk from infected cats. Cat-to-cat transfer of virus may occur from a bite wound, during mutual grooming, shared dishes, and from an infected mother cat to her kittens, either before they are born or while they are nursing. Spaying and neutering feral cats will eliminate reproduction and the spread of FeLV from moms to kittens. Spaying and neutering will also decrease aggression and the spread of FeLV through bite wounds.

Even with FeLV most of cats are asymptomatic. When and if clinical signs appear, the infected cat may exhibit signs of disease: anemia, poor condition, weakness, and weight loss are commonly seen. When and if symptoms appear, it is the responsibility of the caretaker to retrap, treat, or euthanize cats whose quality of life is poor.

FIV is not very contagious and generally requires deep bites for disease transmission. Most transmission is usually associated with mating behaviors (males fighting with other males or males biting females while mating). Once the cats are spayed and neutered, transmission is much less likely. Even with persistent FIV, most of these cats are asymptomatic. When and if clinical signs appear, the infected cat may exhibit signs of disease. For FIV cats, nonhealing wounds, increased susceptibility to other diseases or tumors are common; for FeLV cats, anemia, poor condition, weakness, and weight loss are commonly seen. When and if symptoms appear, it is the responsibility of the caretaker to retrap, treat, or euthanize cats whose quality of life is poor.

Sec. 5-113.d.4: microchipping is required.
See my comments above Sec. 5-111.a.2.

Sec.5-114.a.2: A permit may be revoked for failing to permit an animal control officer to inspect the private property where the feral cat colony is maintained.
Please see my comments regarding Sec.5-112.d.

Sec. 5-114.a.4: A permit may be revoked if the size of the colony has increased and is deemed a public health hazard or nuisance.
Public health hazards and nuisance complaints should be taken seriously if valid. However, caretakers should have the opportunity to remedy them in an adequate period of time.

Thank you for considering my comments to craft an ordinance that encourages and supports TNR rather than making it difficult. Caretakers, mostly at their expense, are providing a service to the city by practicing TNR. Feral cats existed before caretakers began practicing TNR, and without caretakers’ efforts there would be many more feral cats in the city today. You may view model ordinances at http://www.neighborhoodcats.org/RESOURCES_ORDINANCES.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.

Respectfully,
Nancy Peterson
Cat Programs Manager, Companion Animals
npeterson@humanesociety.org