If 2016 was the Year of the Chicken in the Town of Ulster, 2017 is shaping up to be the Year of the Cat. An agenda item about an early draft of a proposed law designed to crack down on feral cats drew both vocal support and opposition from the town board last week, even though, as the councilmen pointed out, they have yet to set a public hearing on the matter.
The issue was initially broached during a Town Board meeting on Thursday, February 16, when a letter from Dawn DeLuca was read in which the Sunset Park resident expressed concerns that her property was being overrun by feral cats because a neighbor was feeding them.
At the next Town Board meeting, held on Thursday, March 2, DeLuca was on hand to seek assurances from councilmen that cat owners and those who feed feral cats alike should be responsible for the animals.
“If these individuals want to feed their cats, they should keep them on their property in a proper cattery so they are not wandering the neighborhood killing my birds and leaving them on my patio for me to scoop up,” DeLuca said.
Lori Werner, another area resident agreed that the situation had grown out of control. “I live directly across from the people that have been feeding these feral cats, and it’s been going on for four, close to five years,” Werner said. “The damage that they’re doing to our property is unreal. They will not live where they’re being fed. They’re living under our decks, they’re living at another house under their decks, they are peeing and spraying on the foundations. My basement stinks. They’ve destroyed my property. I’ve had to take bushes out. I can’t open the windows.”
Councilman Eric Kitchen said the draft of the proposed law being discussed was likely to undergo changes before ever being decided by the Town Board, by which time it will have had an official, rather than impromptu, public hearing, as well as a 30-day waiting period allowing anyone from the community to have their say.
“This law might be modified a thousand times, and it might not pass at all,” Kitchen said. “The problem has been brought to the Town Board. How do we deal with it? We ask the Town Attorney (Jason Kovacs) to draft up a local law.”
Deputy Supervisor John Morrow, who chaired the meeting with Supervisor James E. Quigley, III, absent, echoed the sentiment, assuring the public that their voices would be heard.
“This is going to be a long process where everybody will have an opportunity to give input verbally and in writing,” Morrow said.
The proposed legislation would make unlawful cat owners or those harboring cats to allow the animals to be vicious, spray or defecate in such a way as to “cause annoyance” to anyone else; or cause damage or destruction to property. It would also require cat owners and those who harbor cats to vaccinate the animals against rabies for the cats to be allowed to remain in the town.
Fines under the proposed law would be a $50 for the first violation, $150 for the second, and $250 for the third and any further violations.
Anne Pumilia, an area resident, said the threat of fines might be the surest way of guaranteeing compliance. “I think there needs to be a substantial fine attached to that law, otherwise it’s for naught,” Pumilia said. “There has to be a substantial fine and it has to be enforced.”
Gail Mihocko is the director of the Accord-based Project Cat, which provides rescue, shelter, medical care, and seeks to find permanent homes for felines in need. The town’s relationship with Project Cat stretches back four years when it sought hekp in spaying and neutering a colony of feral cats on Pine Place. In that instance, 17 cats were found and treated, and after four that had feline AIDS were euthanized, the others were returned to the property.
Mihocko spoke in favor of the town’s efforts to consider cat regulation.
“Why am I interested in this? Because my shelter responds to calls about homeless cats all over the county,” Mihocko said. “We do a lot of work in the Town of Ulster. What we and other shelters currently do is really just putting a tiny BandAid on a very large gaping wound caused by an overpopulation of feral roaming cats.”
Mihocko said regulating cat ownership and those who harbor and feed cats is too often overlooked. “Cats are the only domestic animal for which, in many places including this entire county, there are no ordinances,” she said. “This is not in the best interests of the cat, nor does it show respect for property owners who do not want cats on their property. It’s ecologically unsound due to the prolific hunting habits of cats, and unnaturally dense populations of cats cause a health risk to humans and other animals. We need to get ahead of the epidemic cat problem by putting the onus of responsibility on owners who want to keep cats as pets, just as with any other domestic animal.”
But others, including local resident David Argust, spoke out against the proposed law. “I find the cats to be helpful,” Argust said. “I know they’re in my yard at times, and I see them walking on the street. But quite frankly, they’ve kept the rodent population down tremendously…They’re a wild animal just like other wild animals we have in the yard. I’ve got squirrels, I’ve got woodchucks, I’ve got skunks or whatever. I don’t come to the town expecting you to take care of those problems or whatever.”
Susan Martino, a volunteer for the Town of Saugerties Animal Shelter, said she would oppose any law that involved euthanasia, preferring to see the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) approach. “It works, the TNR,” she said. “Yes, there could be one or two cats that get away, and they could go on to have more cats. But it’s people, us, who are causing this problem. And now we want to go out and euthanize these cats. It’s not fair to them.”
Councilmen said how the town would deal with animals would be clearly spelled out in any final draft, should the legislation ever get that far. Morrow said the Town Board would likely set a date for a public hearing on the proposed law at their next meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 16.
The Town Board late last year adopted a controversial law to regulate ownership of chickens in two different residential zoning districts, making it clear at the time they’d have preferred not to.
“Amongst this board there is great consensus that this is an issue between neighbors, and it should be addressed between neighbors,” said Quigley in November of last year, before the legislation passed by a 4-0 vote. “But seeing that we can’t get the neighbors to talk to each other, we are forced to now take a position and install a structure under which we can enforce some type of penalty if someone doesn’t play nice. We don’t want to restrict roosters. But if someone has a complaint from their neighbors about some neighbor’s roosters, we need something to be able to enforce. Consequently, a prohibition against roosters.”
That law focused specifically on the keeping of chickens by residents within the R-10 and R-30 zones, and would prohibit owning roosters unless grandfathered in; would require chickens be kept in a secure pen or enclosure; would require pens to be placed at least 20 feet from property lines and 30 feet from neighboring houses; and would require chicken manure to be at least 30 feet from property lines. A no-fee five-year permit is also required to own chickens in the affected zones. Passage of the law was the culmination of an often heated debate between neighbors and town officials over several months.