Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Town puts cat fight on hold

After an emotionally charged meeting at Rancho Viejo Town Hall, town aldermen decided they were not yet ready to address a growing cat infestation problem. An ordinance that would have cracked down on the stray cat population was postponed after a number of local residents voiced their concerns.

Tuesday night's meeting did, however, make it clear just how divisive the issue is in Rancho Viejo. Of the 50 residents in attendance, some spoke at length about their frustrations with the animals.

"Kittens grow up to become killer adult cats," said Reynaldo Cantu. "No one has the right to allow those animals on my property. . . . It's (the aldermen's) obligation to make sure these animals are controlled here.

Other residents said that feral and stray cats were disturbing their sleep, scaring their children and killing native wildlife.

But the majority of residents - and attendees from Bayview and Brownsville - seemed more concerned over the ordinance's implications for stray cats that would be trapped and removed from the town. Young, healthy cats might be adopted, but for diseased strays, the ordinance might mean a death sentence, said Alma Leal.

"If all the guidelines of a trap, neuter and release program are followed, it can be a successful program," she said.

Other residents objected to a provision in the ordinance that would have fined residents whose animals were found unleashed outside of their property.

Mayor Craig Flood defended the provision, saying "as residents continue to disregard the town ordinance, they should be punished. . . . I doubt that we could put that person in jail . . . therefore, it's a fine."

But Flood objected to the ordinance as a whole, calling it "unenforceable."

"If we catch a stray cat, we're not going to find anyone in violation (of the ordinance) except the cat," he said.

Even the aldermen involved in the ordinance's creation seemed ambivalent, before deciding to revisit the issue in a month's time.

"Perhaps we do owe it to the cats to give them a reprieve," said Roberto Medrano, an alderman. "But at the end of the day, I side with human rights, not cat rights."

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