Town of Carbondale contemplates cat control
Carbondalians may soon be subject to a fine if their feline friends range too far afield in their pursuit of prey.
At the urging of Roaring Fork Audubon Society President Mary Harris, Carbondale is working on an ordinance modeled on one in Aurora, which prohibits cats from running at large, prohibits excessive numbers in a single household, and requires licensing as well as spay and neutering.
The goal, as Harris explained Tuesday evening to the Board of Trustees, is to stop the slaughter of native and migrating birds.
“They have no voice,” she said of birds. “We only know what’s happening to them through scientific data.”
Harris cited estimates that around 4 billion birds are killed by cats annually in North America.
“Our communities have been living in a bit of a bubble in terms of the impact their cats are having on their native animals,” she added, comparing the fledgling movement to early seat belt requirements and limits on public smoking. Beyond Aurora, few communities appear to have such laws in place.
“It is difficult to implement new and potentially unpopular legislation, but you can’t argue with fair,” she said. “Although it may be difficult, it’s a no brainer.”
Although the public process to make the ordinance a reality is just beginning, the idea has traction among the trustees:
For Katrina Byars, the proposal was poignantly punctuated when one of her own mostly indoor cats make short work of a nesting Western Flycatcher that strayed too close to an open window.
“It’s a hard life being a little bird, and we’ve made it much harder,” Byars observed.
Frosty Merriott noted that confining cats to their own yards — and ideally inside — might prevent them from becoming part of the food chain themselves.
“I’ve heard coyotes get cats at night,” he said. “They didn’t enjoy it; I guarantee you.”
Pam Zentmeyer saw the proposal as a baby step in the wrong direction, arguing that cats can hunt just as effectively close to home.
“I think what might be more effective is a whole lot of outreach and education,” she said.
John Hoffman was also hesitant.
“I can see how it could be very difficult for those who have had outdoor cats and a very difficult transition for those cats,” he said.
Mayor Stacey Bernot was quick to remind the assembly that any ordinance would be tempered by the town’s ability to back it up.
“I’m in favor of starting, but I also know that the likelihood of proactive enforcement is limited,” she said.
As with dog-at-large regulations, enforcement would likely mostly depend on complaints. According to Police Chief Gene Schilling, the town occasionally responds to complaints under an old provision against cats causing a nuisance, but doesn’t maintain any impound facilities or fine structure.
Those are some of the details that would have to be addressed.
“The conversation doesn’t end tonight, I think it’s just the next step,” Bernot said.
When the issue returns to the agenda, there’s likely to be push-back.
Cindy Sadlowski, who has spent 15 years spaying and neutering stray cats in the area, called the proposal ridiculous.
“They’re missing the whole point,” she said of bird death. “It’s not the cats. It’s loss of habitat. It’s DDT in Central and South America. It’s glass buildings with lights on at night. Are we going to start turning some of these golf courses back into natural habitat for birds? I doubt it.”
Carbondale veterinarian Ben Mackin had some concerns of his own.
“For me, it just comes down to quality of life,” he said. “Some cats would be fine, and some cats just wouldn’t happy if they didn’t go outside.”
He disagreed with the assertion that indoor cats live longer, happier lives.
“An outdoor cat is more likely to be exposed to intestinal parasites, predators and catfights. However, indoor cats can be more prone to behavioral and urinary issues,” he said. “I think there’s nothing wrong with licensure for cats and spay and neutering, but I think a cat’s gonna be a cat and it’s gonna kill birds.”
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