In recent weeks, numerous friends have brought to my attention concerns about the way feral cats are treated in my community. The city of Canton, OH has one of the most draconian animal control policies around, and many friends have asked me to get involved in the process of making change.
"Okey" Artwork by BZTAT
“Just think, had someone called Animal Control on Okey, she would never have become the star that she is,” one friend posted on my Facebook wall.
A friend from California sent me this message: “Vicki, this is going on right in your own backyard – isn’t there something you can do?”
How could I not get involved?
Here is the situation.
The city has a contract with an individual to perform Animal Control Officer duties. This individual reportedly takes complaints from the community regarding nuisance animals, including feral cats and assorted wildlife (skunks, raccoons, etc.) and he removes them from the location of the complaint. Wildlife apparently are relocated and released back into the wild where they will be less of a nuisance. Feral cats are taken to the Humane Society and euthanized. A handful of kittens and adoptable cats are rehabbed and placed for adoption, but unsocialized cats are deemed “ill” and destroyed.
Aside from the ineffective and inhumane method of dealing with the animal control problem, there are also complaints about inappropriate and inhumane treatment of animals by the individual in the role of Animal Control Officer. There is a personnel issue here – complaints from the community that the officer is doing his job in an inhumane manner – in addition to the problematic policy in place.
Alley Cat Allies, Best Friends Animal Society, ASPCA, Found Animals Foundation, and every other major animal welfare organization in the United States advocate for TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) as the most humane and the most effective means of controlling feral cat problems. Neutering and providing basic vet care to feral cats typically reduces the nuisance behaviors that cause problems, and returning a neutered cat to it’s previous location leads to a reduction of non-neutered cats entering the area. Progressive cities are instituting TNR programs and seeing great benefit.
With all of this in mind, I accompanied my friends to the City Council meeting on Monday, February 6, 2012. Ten other advocates and I spoke at the meeting to implore our City Council to consider: 1) discontinuing the current contract, and 2) developing a TNR program for the city.
Surprisingly, we encountered interested and open minds on the Council. They continued the current contract for a shortened period of time (90 days), however, they also agreed to work with advocates to develop alternatives to the current method of animal control.
Although I am concerned that the city contracted with an individual who has active complaints of animal maltreatment from the community against him, I did receive personal assurances from 4 council persons that the complaints would be investigated immediately.
I will keep you posted on the progress of the effort in this space. What follows are the remarks that I shared in the Public Speaks portion of the City Council meeting on February 6, 2012.
My name is Vicki Boatright. I speak to you as a counselor, as an advocate for children and as an advocate for animals. I also speak to you as an artist who has personally contributed to the redevelopment of Downtown Canton with 2 murals depicting the bond that exists between animals and human beings. I am currently working on a third public art project along the same theme with funds provided to me by my community.
In my 20 year career as as a counselor with children, I saw clearly that there is a link between the maltreatment of animals and violence towards children. Considerable clinical research backs up my own observations. When animals are treated poorly, children are often treated poorly as well.
As a counselor, I worked with parents, teachers and other child advocates to help children develop empathy and wise methods of problem solving. My objection to the renewal of a contract for very inhumane and ineffective feral cat control practice follows that trajectory of my purposes.
I believe that we must set an example for our children in our actions and in our public policies.
Trap-neuter-release has been proven to be the most effective, efficient and humane method of managing feral cat problems. Trap and euthanize programs have been proven to be ineffective, inefficient and inhumane. We should not even be having this conversation.
We often talk of attracting young professionals to Canton as a place to make their home. With the documented rise of pet ownership among young professionals, progressive cities are working to become more animal friendly communities. What is Canton doing? Killing cats. As a result of this contract renewal issue, pet writers across the country have already begun to black-list Canton as a very pet-unfriendly community. Yes, we are on their radar. I first heard of it from a writer in California.
This issue is not simply about whether or not to appease some bleeding heart animal rights activists. This issue is about how we as a community demonstrate the empathy and the wise problem-solving that we desire our children to embrace. It is about the economics of making this city a place where people want to live. I urge you to stop this ineffective and cruel practice of killing cats today, and show our children what empathy and wise problem solving really means. Thank you.
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