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Council tables cat licensing issue to Nov. 3 meeting

Ending a city regulation for cat licensing is looking to be no simple matter for the Grangeville City Council. And comment at last week’s regular meeting shows the issue lies deeper than whether there’s a tag dangling or not from a collar.

Following public comment and questions last Oct. 20, Mayor Bruce Walker tabled the matter until the Nov. 3 regular meeting to allow for the council to review updates proposed to the city ordinance that essentially remove the requirement for cat licensing.

Council is considering a change to code following a request by Sara Espeland in July on the basis that licensing cats is a waste of time and resources that doesn’t address what she sees as the real animal control issue, namely controlling the feral cat population.

Currently, the city has licensed 45 cats and 256 dogs. Annual licensing is $5 for spayed/neutered animals, $10 otherwise.

As it stands, the ordinance change would remove all references to cats, which would then fall under the animal provision of the code for control and disposal. Both city attorney Adam Green and Police Chief Morgan Drew stated the change would give officers more flexibility in handling animal nuisance calls, which would not necessarily require impoundment of the animal depending on case-by-case circumstances.

“I’m in favor of keeping cats in the ordinance. It’s important,” said Gwen Smith. Among her key concerns was how would the city monitor that cats are vaccinated for rabies, currently required under the code, if they are no longer required to be licensed? She said she has five neighborhood cats that intrude in her yard, “that drive me crazy,” and kill an average of 34 wild birds a year. She also went farther, suggesting that most city ordinances of this kind also require pet owners to clean up their pets’ feces.

Animal Ark volunteer Mary Ann Davidson grilled the council on the proposed change, largely seeking clarification on whether the city would still be impounding cats as a result of nuisance calls. Chief Drew clarified the change being proposed made the decision to impound “circumstance dependent,” and that in some cases it could instead warrant working with homeowners on how to keep cats out of their yards.

“But I’m not a fan of trapping them ‘just because,’” he said, as they are someone’s personal property.

Davidson also wrangled with the council on clarifying how cats would be now handled, specifically concerned that the change would put them under the “all other animals” category that allowed for their disposal – which could include killing the animal — at the city’s discretion. She wanted language that exempted cats as relates to the disposal language.

Former city councilor Jeff Kutner, who was on the council when the cat licensing was approved, spoke in favor of retaining licensing, saying that pet owners need to be responsible and control their cats, preferably keeping them inside, “and if they run wild and aren’t licensed, so be it.” He also echoed Smith’s concerns for cats killing off wild birds, citing a current Discover magazine article noting the biggest killer of migratory birds – 2.4 billion annually – are free-ranging domestic cats.

“I want to see the city ordinance go away and not deal with cats,” said Tammy Drew, a volunteer at the city pound and wife of Chief Drew, who would rather see police deal with crime problems than animal calls. Another concern for her was the current city facility is small and inefficient, allowing animals to be impounded too close together that puts mental stress on cats.

“This is a tough issue,” said Walker, noting the strong opinions of both sides, on the insistence for government oversight into what should be a pet owner’s responsibility to care for and control their animal, and yet the city will still do its best in managing the problem. And animal control is a problem for the city, number one month after month in calls – barking dogs, loose or roaming dogs and cats — reported to police. For him, it’s frustrating to have this fine police force, meant to keep the community protected and safe, “and they have to spend so much time on animals.”


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