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Cat defenders offer alternative

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Trap and kill or spay and stay? See what officials decided

By Cindy Simpson

Feral cat advocates and a concerned pet owner turned out to hear the second reading of an ordinance to put restrictions on the felines in Rockwood.
“The humane thing and what the guidance and research says is the effective way to manage the colony is trap, neuter, return. In the process of neutering, you also vaccinate and ear tip the cat so that you know the cat has had medical attention and has been spayed or neutered,” said Diane Stevens.
Stevens said she attended the meeting at the request of Alley Cat Allies of Maryland, and also represented Feral Feline Friends of East Tennessee.
“None of us likes cat hoarding; none of us like the fact there are free-roaming cats,” she said. “But to effectively manage it, you need to stabilize the colony.”
“By just trapping and taking them to the shelter to be euthanized, that doesn’t stop the reproduction,” Stevens added. “That doesn’t stop the feral cats, and you are going to spend all your resources trapping cats and killing cats,” Stevens said.
Stevens said as long as there is a designated caregiver trap, neuter and return is the preferred method.
Stevens said the argument that feral cats carry more diseases than domesticated cats is not true.
She said research from University of Tennessee Veterinary School and personal experience refutes the claim.
A Rockwood pet owner also expressed her concern her pets might be inadvertently collected by the Rockwood animal control officer.
“Where I live, on Kingston Avenue, we have five cats that we’ve essentially taken in,” said Laura Smith. She said she’s a responsible pet owner who makes sure the felines are  neutered and vaccinated. 
“Who were these complaints geared against?” she asked. “Were these particular people who have taken their time and effort and money to take animals who are strays and neuter and spay them, to give them shots, to feed them, make sure they have water, which is a humane thing to do when you have an animal that is starving to death; to take them in and take care of them?”
“How many people in the city of Rockwood agree with what you are doing? Is this four or five people who complained, and suddenly the city council is making an ordinance that is going to impact every pet owner in the city of Rockwood?” 
Smith said residents may take up a recall petition in response to council actions.
One resident, however, said he was tired of cat problems around his neighborhood.
David McLarty said he has been startled by as many as  six wild cats and they had urinated on outdoor furniture.
“It has just gotten to be an oppressive thing,” he said.
He said there have been cases in which people have gotten ill because of feral cats.
Mayor James Watts stressed there are no plans to go on a spree to seize and capture cats.
Watts said the focus is on irresponsible pet owners, not those who take care of their animals.
“I can assure you we are not trying to trap cats to kill them,” he said.
Watts, who has two cats himself, added that advocates are free to contact the city to work out arrangements to adopt the animals.
Council members said pet owners could check for any missing pets at the Rockwood Animal Shelter.
“There is a certain number of days they are held there before that (euthanization) takes place or they are adopted,” Councilman Bill Thompson said.
Someone asked how animal control would know a cat was feral.
“If you try to pick up a feral cat, you know real fast you have a feral cat,” Watts said.
The feral cat and kennel ordinances also address the number of cats or other pets owners can have as more than five animals, a change from the original five or more. Otherwise, a pet owner would be considered to be operating a kennel and would need to be in a commercial zone.
Smith also was concerned about this because of her number of animals.
In the end, the measure passed on the second reading.
Vice Mayor Peggy Evans passed on the portion involving the kennel ordinance. She admitted to  having more than five animals herself.