Will feeding feral cats in Niagara Falls soon become a crime?
The Niagara Falls, New York community is the focus this month of a heated debate between feral cat caregivers and those who say the cats are causing more harm than good. Niagara Falls City Council member Kristen Grandinetti is at the forefront of this issue, as she has introduced tabled legislation that would tighten regulations for cat owners in the city and allegedly make feeding a stray cat a criminal offense. Kristen seeks to amend Chapter 701 of the Codified City Ordinances, which governs those who own dogs, cats and other animals. The changes she wants to see happen mostly involve cats.
Kristen said on her Facebook page that Niagara Falls residents on both sides of the issue have been contacting her. She has spoken to people who have endured cat poop and the destruction of garbage cans who are tired of the roughly 60,000 feral cats in the city (the population of people is only 49,000). Kristen has also visited rat infested neighborhoods, where feral cats do their part by controlling to rodent population. Half of the feral cats in Niagara Falls are cared for by feral colony caregivers, who also practice TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate, return).
Chapter 701 reads “No cat shall be fed, sheltered, maintained or harbored that is not domesticated” with the new proposal reading “No person shall harbor, maintain or feed any unlicensed or stray cat.” Cats may no longer “interfere with garbage receptacles,” or to “defecate, urinate or dig” on any property not belonging to the owner of the cat. There’s also a mechanism that would allow a neighbor to report another neighbor feeding a cat illegally. This has led to dozens of hateful comments on Kristen’s Facebook page.
Kristen stated April 8 on her Facebook wall that members of City Council have plans to meet with the SPCA to come up with a plan that will please both sides. In an interview with WGRZ News, Amy Lewis with the Niagara Count SPCA is defending the cats stating
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“I don’t think it is going to solve the problem. The rats are still going to be there, the cats are still going to be there. They will find other resources; they will get into the garbage.”
Many veterinary groups in the Niagara Falls area are opposed to TNVR. Kristen believes it’s a way to cut down on disease and overpopulation. The laws Kristen has proposed address animal abuse (think about cats breeding and having litter after litter) and they promote TNVR. She is against feeding and caring for cats that continue to breed and that is where the fines and jail time come in. Fines start at $50 for first time, second time not less than $100 and not more than $250 or jail for not more than 15 days or both for repeat offenders.
The SPCA supports a TNVR involved community, as it halts reproduction and controls the cat population. Kristen also appears to support TNVR, saying it would control disease and control population, although some would argue this point. The question as to whether Kristen is for cats or against cat is creating a lot of discussion on social media.
According to a March 25 report by Buffalo News, Buffalo attorney and animal lover Peter A. Reese and a law student from the University at Buffalo Law School’s Animal Law Pro Bono Project addressed the Board of Health in back in January in favor of TNVR. The issue was referred to the board by Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, and was impressed enough to pass a motion to ask the Legislature to endorse the program. President of the Niagara County Association of Veterinarians, Dr. David G. Monti and Dr. Lewis strongly oppose TNVR.
Revisions to the proposals will go before the Niagara Falls City later this month. No one in favor of TNVR is asking for money to help with the programs. TNVR advocates tend to come up with the money to “fix” their colony cats, so this isn’t a proposal that will cost the city in more taxes. What this proposal will outline is all cats, whether homeless, feral, community or domestic will be registered. A TNVR cat has a owner name to it and it will be the owners responsibility to maintain and care for that cat.
This is a difficult topic to write on, as things tend to be undergoing changes quickly and it’s a confusing situation to say the least. If I’ve left anything out, or if you have anything you’d like to say to Kristen Grandinetti about the benefits of colony cats, please do so in the comment section. I feel sure she’ll be reading this article. And Kristen DID say she wants more information on the advantages of TNVR.
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This sort of battle is so familiar to me. My life was a living hell until our strong TNR program was brought into law and enacted. As a caretaker, prior to TNR, I was harassed, fined hundreds of dollars, and threatened with imprisonment for feeding my feral colonies. I had animal control at my house at least 3 times per week wanting me to divulge the locations of my cats and provide documented proof of vaccinations for those cats I had visible around me. I wrote checks to cover the fines that depleted my own grocery money and more.
Nothing deterred me (and many others) from caring for my cats. Most all of us have a back up person (our secondary) who will take over should we be “gone” for whatever reason (illness, jail). Most of our secondaries have secondaries also.
Besides the ignorance of city/county animal services people and the councils, the feral cat opposition was fueled by what I call the “bird people’ who spewed their venom about cats killing wildlife and carrying diseases. They are of the belief that cats will just go away if not fed. Such fools! It’s our job to bring the truths to light.
Arm yourselves with truths/evidence.
Come out of the shadows and request to be on the city/county agendas. Post that information everywhere so other caretakers will know to attend.
We have representatives in the Greenville area who speak at each and every council meeting. TNR and shelter reform are the main topics.
Thanks for this Elisa. Excellent article. I have written an FB comment. It sometimes seems that the whole of America is battling with the dreaded “feral cat problem”. The solution is unclear to many and it causes arguments because people take up polarised positions: cat haters v. cat lovers and so on.
The only way forward is to support effective TNR, make it work and write laws which assist in this process. At the same time laws should be written which tackle the source of feral cats: irresponsible cat ownership. A two-pronged approach.