Hilliard residents might risk paying a fine if Hilliard City Council approvesproposed legislation that could criminalize people who “feed, harbor or house”a feral cat.

The proposed legislation defines a feral cat as one that is “wild, stray ornot owned” and includes domestic cats “turned wild.”

It dictates “no person shall feed, harbor or house a feral cat or cats” andstipulates anyone doing so could be guilty of a minor misdemeanor. Anyone whoviolates the ordinance within a 12-month period would be guilty of a fourth-degree misdemeanor upon a subsequent violation, according to the text of thelegislation.

The authorizing ordinance for the legislation is scheduled for a secondreading, where public comment will be accepted, at the Nov. 25 meeting ofHilliard City Council at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way.

The ordinance was introduced at council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Oct.28, and it received a first reading at the full council meeting the sameevening.

Council President Kelly McGivern asked that the legislation be drafted.

“We continue to receive complaints about the presence of feral cats andrelated waste,” McGivern said Oct. 30. “We have no ability to address theconcerns (without the proposed legislation). The proposal would prohibitfeeding feral cats as a way to deter them from our community.”

When asked about the magnitude of the problem, McGivern said the city hadreceived three complaints in the past four months.

The proposal raised an immediate concern for council member Omar Tarazi.

“I don’t think the (proposed) legislation makes sense at all, and I don’t seehow the police could possibly enforce this,” Tarazi said.

Hilliard Division of Police Chief Robert Fisher was aware council was mullingthe proposal but was not aware the legislation would be proposed Oct. 28, saidAndrea Litchfield, a police spokeswoman.

Fisher is expected to discuss the proposal later this week with safetydirector Jim Mosic, she said.

“Should council pass this ordinance, (police) would enforce it, just as everyother provision,” Litchfield said.

The maximum fine for a minor misdemeanor is $150; the maximum penalty for afourth-degree misdemeanor is a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.

Tarazi called the proposed legislation a “problem-oriented” approach asopposed to an “outcomes approach.”

“We supposedly have a problem of feral cats … so let’s (not) immediately jumpto criminalizing those people (who feed cats). … I want to (instead) quantifythe problem and focus on finding solutions with the best outcomes,” Tarazisaid. “Punishing people who put out cat food, criminally, does nothing toreduce the feral-cat population.”

Council Vice President Pete Marsh said Oct. 31 the “proposal merits furtherstudy.”

“I recognize that feral cats are an issue in some areas and that there arenegative repercussions, (but) I can also see potential pitfalls in thisproposal though so I think more research is necessary,” Marsh said.

He said he saw no need to rush a policy.

“With the upcoming transition to a city-manager form of government, budgethearings and numerous other pieces of legislation on the docket, we have a lotof things (on our) plate right now,” Marsh said. “I believe there is no needto rush this legislation until we have more clarity on the issue.”

A representative of Colony Cats said the Dublin-based advocacy organizationopposes the proposed legislation.

“It’s completely awful and not the way to address (the problem),” said LoriSkaggs, a volunteer for the organization for the past 10 years.

Skaggs said the preferred approach is to trap, neuter and release cats in apractice known as “TNR.”

The practice also includes spaying female cats, but the acronym utilizes theneutering of male cats, she said.

“TNR is the humane way to manage (feral-cat population),” Skaggs said. “Notfeeding them leads to starvation and disease. It’s inhumane for the cats andthose who care for and love them.”

Meanwhile, the proposed legislation has the support of resident AmandaWhalley, who said feral cats in her neighborhood – enticed by a well-meaningneighbor who places food outside – use her lawn “as their own personal litterboxes.”

She said she recently had to remove a dead cat from her driveway.

The neighboring city of Dublin does not have an ordinance prohibiting feedingferal cats, but under the city’s animal-control codes, a person providingsustenance and care for a roaming cat is considered its presumptive owner,said Barbara Ray, nature coordinator for Dublin.

“The only time we address this aspect of the ordinance is when a neighbor hasconflicts with a fed roaming cat, (and) then the caretaker must decide whetherto cease (feeding), keep the cat (indoors) or turn it in to a shelter,” shesaid.

Roaming cats create heath risk to pets, wildlife and humans and typicallycarry rabies or even other zoonotic diseases, Ray said, as well as a lifeexpectancy of about three years compared to lifespans of up to 18 years fordomestic cats.

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