Antioch City Council says feeding ban here to stay
ANTIOCH — Despite a controversial city ordinance banning the practice, a number of people — including animal rescue group volunteers — continue to regularly feed feral cats on public land, a police lieutenant reported to the City Council on Tuesday.
But after hearing comments from several folks asking them to rescind the ban, council members reiterated that the ordinance is here to stay. However, they directed staff to continue to work with folks who feel the ban impedes them from doing trap, neuter, return work — known as TNR — intended to control the feral population.
“I try to be optimistic — I was hoping they would consider repealing the ban,” said Susan Smith, a volunteer with the Homeless Animal Response Program. “But I understand their point that they feel they can’t repeal it because of rogue feeding.”
City officials say the ban was justified because downtown feeding attracted more cats to feral colonies near the waterfront and led to an increase in vermin, cat feces and other blight.
“What caused the problem in the first place was unfettered feeding along our environmentally sensitive waterfront, where there are species that cats naturally would hunt,” City Manager Steve Duran said. “Not to mention the feces and cleaning up of cat food and things like that.”
Antioch’s feral cat population exploded in recent years, largely due to people who dump pet cats that they couldn’t afford to keep. HARP members and others responded by trapping and neutering hundreds of homeless cats and adopting out the friendly ones. They now see themselves as caretakers of the city’s homeless animals, and many say that it would be immoral to halt feeding.
When the ban was passed, the council directed staff to meet with folks doing TNR work and try to reach a compromise. But those talks have broken down to the point that Councilwoman Mary Rocha recommended the city find a neutral third party to mediate future meetings.
“I know that the department has a certain feeling about things and that the people who love cats have another one,” Rocha said. “So, you’re not going to move, because we do have the ban in place. But we also want to come to some agreement.”But there seemed to be some disagreement as to whether Lisa Kirk of the local Homeless Animal Lifeline Organization or a Milpitas resident with feral colony management experience named Holly Cruz would be the city’s preferred choice as mediator.
Duran and police Lt. Tony Morefield led most of the meetings with TNR workers but couldn’t reach a consensus. Many feeders misinterpreted the council’s direction to hold meetings as a moratorium on the ban, which it was not. Others have made it clear they don’t plan to obey the law, Morefield said.
City officials have removed or destroyed several public feeding stations since the ban was put into place, but they admit that they don’t have the resources to effectively enforce the ban.
A number of folks asked the council to step up enforcement of a state law forbidding people from dumping their pets. Others praised the council for passing the ban and asked them to keep it in place.
HARP members say feeding the cats is necessary to bait traps and to gain the cats’ trust. City officials argue that folks doing TNR work should be able to find a way to obey the law. The ordinance states that feeding feral cats is illegal, “except on one’s own property,” but the city attorney’s office confirmed Thursday that feeding stations established on private property would be legal, so long as the property owner gave permission.
The city attorney also indicated Tuesday that the ban didn’t explicitly exempt folks from using food to bait traps, but Morefield and Animal Services Director Monika Helgemo have both repeatedly stated that they wouldn’t issue citations to folks baiting traps with food for TNR purposes.
Contact Nate Gartrell at 925-779-7174 or follow him at Twitter.com/NateGartrell.