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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

23 February 2004 Issue

You Can Fight City Hall

Published 10-27-03 (Akron, Ohio) Not many people hate dogs. Not many people hate horses. Not many people hate chickens or goldfish. Yet for some inexplicable reason, certain people hate cats.

Just why is a mystery. But one thing’s clear: Cat haters have a new capital city — Akron, Ohio.

In 2002, the Akron city council declared war on cats by passing an ordinance that made any feline caught outdoors illegal — and subject to summary execution. At the time, councilman Michael Williams told his fellow council members he’d “sleep fine” if 20,000 cats died as a result. Sadly, it looks like Williams is getting his wish. More than 2,000 cats and kittens have been killed since the ordinance was passed, and dozens more are dying each week.

“What’s happening in Akron is both a tragedy and a travesty,” says ALDF Executive Director Joyce Tischler. “There are more compassionate — and effective — ways to control the feral and stray cat populations. But rather than explore these options, Akron’s leaders have gone on an indiscriminate killing spree.”

Fortunately, animal advocates in Akron are fighting back — and ALDF’s backing them up. (To find out what you can do, scroll down to the bottom of this page.)

With the support of an ALDF grant, attorney (and longtime ALDF member) J. Jeffrey Holland has filed suit on behalf of six Akron residents with cats. Holland and his clients say the city left them with no other choice.

“We did everything we could to seek compromise and common ground,” Holland says, pointing out that local activists presented the city with a variety of alternative plans that would use trap-neuter-return strategies to reduce the number of free-roaming cats. Though these models were based on successful programs in other Ohio towns, the council ignored them, passing instead an ordinance that essentially sentences outdoor cats to death.

“The council wasn’t interested in alternatives,” says Deanne Christman-Resch, co-chair of Citizens for Humane Animal Practices (CHAP), which was formed to fight the ordinance. “They basically wanted to round up cats because they consider them a nuisance. They claimed cats are a big health concern because of rabies, but that’s bogus. There hasn’t been a case of cat or dog rabies in this county for decades.”

It’s not just the city’s motives that have been called into question. So have its methods. The city hands out cat-traps to anyone who asks for them. As long as a trap is “active” — i.e., capturing cats on a regular basis — the individual is allowed to keep it.

“The city shouldn’t encourage any person to trap cats,” says Holland. “Abuse and neglect are inevitable.”

Not just inevitable — already all too common, according to Christman-Resch.

“We know that people are trapping cats to get back at neighbors because of personal feuds,” she says. “People who are in organized dog-fighting are trapping cats because they can use them to train their dogs. We’ve got animal dealers here who sell cats to research. A lot of these animals are never even making it to the pound.”

Even if a cat is actually picked up by the city, there’s not much hope he or she will survive long. Under the ordinance, cats are supposed to be held for three days before being killed, thus giving their guardians a chance (albeit an exceedingly short-lived one) to claim them. But CHAP has found case after case in which captured cats were put to death immediately because they were deemed “sick,” “flea-infested” or “feral.”

“Eighty percent are killed the same day they’re brought in,” Christman-Resch says. “More than 2,500 cats have been trapped since this started, and of those only three or four dozen went home with their guardians. And whenever anyone does actually manage to rescue a cat, they’re hit with all kinds of fees and fines.”

Of course, anyone who cares for an outdoor cat would be more than willing to pay a few fines in order to get their friend back. Sadly, however, by the time they find out their cat’s been captured, it’s probably too late.

That’s exactly what happened to Sue Richardson. She befriended a feral kitten last year, feeding the young cat after she was abandoned in Richardson’s neighborhood.

“I couldn’t bring her inside. I tried once, but my other cats had a fit and so did my neighbor downstairs,” says Richardson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Holland. “Still, I was trying to work with her to domesticate her. She got comfortable enough to sit with me in the yard in the evenings. Everyone in the neighborhood knew she was mine.”

Unfortunately, being outside made the cat — whom Richardson had named “Kitty” — fair game. Unbeknownst to Richardson, a neighbor set out cat traps, and eventually Kitty disappeared. When Richardson checked with the city, she found that a cat matching Kitty’s description had been brought to the pound and killed the same day.

“She wasn’t a danger. She wasn’t hurting anyone or damaging anything,” says Richardson. “The city had no right to do what it did. Granted, she wasn’t inside my apartment, but she was no less my cat.”

That’s how Rachel Neuwirth felt about Mikey, the indoor/outdoor cat she lost to the city’s traps. Mikey was neutered, vaccinated and wearing a collar when he was captured. Neuwirth found his collar tossed in the street near her house. Mikey she never saw again: A cat matching his description was killed due to an unexplained “injury” mentioned in the pound’s logbook.

“I’m really angry with the city,” says Neuwirth, who's also a plaintiff in the suit against the city. “There’s definitely a better solution than just picking up cats and killing them. It’s cruel. It’s not the cats’ fault people are too ignorant to spay and neuter their animals.”

So who’s fault is it? Certainly the city has done nothing to deal with the problem humanely — it doesn’t even have a spay/neuter program despite studies (presented to the city council by CHAP) that demonstrate that such efforts are cheaper and more cost-effective than killing.

“What does it say about a community’s government when both public sentiment and hard facts are ignored and numerous offers of expertise and assistance are rebuffed?” asks Becky Robinson, national director of Alley Cat Allies, which has been working with CHAP to fight the ordinance. “In the face of something so vile, everyone — not just the people of Akron — must stand up and demand that it stop.”

To do just that, click here and let the Akron city council know you don’t approve of its actions. You can also support ALDF and CHAP as they take the battle against the ordinance to the courts.

“You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate the time and resources it takes to fight city hall,” says Holland. “The city will use the full weight of its resources to win. We need everyone’s help today.”

Source: [email protected]

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