Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Nov-Dec 2016 issue

Two-Way Street: How Does Your City Manage Feral Cats?

Shawna Jenkins, city clerk of PrincetonSHAWNA JENKINS
City Clerk
Princeton (population 4,732)

Many of us are animal lovers, but at the same time, we understand stray and feral cats can present a real problem for cities and their residents. In the City of Princeton, we were hearing more and more complaints from residents about feral cats and, about two years ago, we realized we needed to figure out a solution. We found there are two trains of thought for dealing with the problem. One was a trap, neuter, and release program, and the other was to trap and euthanize the feral cats.

Trap, neuter, release
For those cities or residents that wish to trap, neuter, and release, the cost can be quite large. At a local veterinary clinic, the charge for spaying or neutering and giving a rabies shot is almost $120 per cat. The obvious downfalls of this method are the cost; cats continuing to roam the city freely and hunting songbirds that people feed and enjoy; and the possibility of residents being bitten or scratched.

However, if you are interested in this route, there is a more economical option. The Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program (www.mnsnap.org) offers a discounted rate and no income qualifications for feral cats. The program will charge $50-60 per cat to spay/neuter and provide a rabies vaccination. They also “tip” one of the cat’s ears, which is a universal sign that the cat has been spayed/neutered and vaccinated for rabies.

Princeton’s solution
The other option—to trap and euthanize these cats—isn’t a pleasant one. The City of Princeton did go with this option, but with a slight twist. We purchased five live traps that residents can borrow to trap feral and stray cats. The cats that are caught are taken to the local veterinary clinic, where they are held for a few days to see if their owners can be found. Most unclaimed cats are adopted out to new homes. However, cats that are too feral and unfriendly to be adopted are, unfortunately, euthanized. The clinic charges the city $60 for each cat that is impounded.

Program works
This program is working well for Princeton. Our leaders feel this option is better than a trap, neuter, release program because the cats are no longer roaming the streets. In the past year, 57 cats have been impounded; 40 of those were picked up by their owners or adopted to new homes, and 17 were euthanized. The cost to the city in the past year has been $3,420 for feral and stray cats.

Kyle Morell, city clerk of HinckleyKYLE MORELL
City Clerk-Administrator
Hinckley (population 1,794)

Feral cats became an issue for the City of Hinckley in the fall of 2014, when a resident began feeding stray cats near his home. Very quickly, the number of stray cats soared from three to more than 50 at one point. As you can imagine, this led to numerous complaints from neighbors regarding both the wandering cats and foul odor emanating from the property. The city had to take action.

Seeking compliance
The City of Hinckley’s Animal Ordinance language does not require a license for cats, but it does limit the number of cats and/or dogs per household to two animals. Our first attempt to address the ordinance violation was through the city’s Administrative Penalty Ordinance. This proved unsuccessful, as the resident did not respond to the city’s warning and violation letters.

I then set up a meeting with the resident, the mayor, and myself to see if the situation could be resolved without further administrative action. The resident professed a desire to reduce the number of cats on his property, and we agreed to give him 60 days to come into compliance with the ordinance. However, at the end of the allotted time frame, the resident had made no positive steps toward abating the ordinance violation. We then proposed a referral to a free service that would humanely trap cats and remove them, which the resident declined.

County’s help needed
Having exhausted the limits of our Administrative Penalty Ordinance, we turned the matter over to the Pine County Sheriff ’s Office (our contracted police service) and the Pine County Attorney’s Office (our contracted criminal prosecutor). The county attorney charged the resident with a misdemeanor offense, and he was tried in court. In March 2016, more than a year after our initial contact, the resident was sentenced for a public nuisance violation. He received a stayed sentence of 30 days, one year of probation, and a small fine, and was given one year to comply with the ordinance.

Ongoing issue
While there has been some improvement with respect to the reduction of the number of feral cats on the property, the resident is still far from compliant with the ordinance, and city administrative time continues to be spent on routine check-ins with both the resident and County Attorney’s Office. If the resident remains in violation in March 2017, the city might hire a service to remove the cats.

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