The Sopris Sun

Cat control committee not purring along so well

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

A group of Carbondale residents and officials apparently are having difficulties over a proposed new ordinance intended to keep cats from killing birds by treating felines like dogs in the eyes of the law.

The committee, created by the town board of trustees on Sept. 8, is charged with figuring out how Carbondale should deal with what some say is a local cat population that is killing an unacceptable number of birds.

But others maintain that the cats are not to blame, and that it is human activities that are responsible for whatever declines may be observed in the region’s bird population, not just locally but regionally and nationally.

The committee has had one meeting, on Sept. 17, and a second meeting is planned for Sept. 24.

The committee is made up of two town trustees — Allyn Harvey and Frosty Merriott — as well as Police Chief Gene Schilling (chairman), police officer Gretchen Bell (whose duties include animal control), and local citizens Randy Brimm, Mary Harris, Dee Malone, Nancy Petersen and Cindy Sadlowski.

It was Harris, who is president of the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society, that first raised the proposed ordinance in July, citing studies claiming that billions of birds are killed by cats nationally, although no local statistics exist to show how the situation stands regionally.

Harris cited a report published by the online journal Nature Communications, funded by the Smithsonian Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, to support her points.

In response to Harris’ plea, the Carbondale Board of Trustees had a proposed ordinance drawn up that requires that cats be kept on their owner’s property or put on leash any time they leave that property; that owners be required to license their cats as well as spay or neuter them, and that any cats found away from their homes would be considered to be “running at large” and impounded.

Sadlowski, a local real estate broker who for 15 years has voluntarily run an organization called the Street Cats Coalition aimed at trapping, neutering and releasing “feral” cats that live on their own, has led the charge against the ordinance.

“They’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” she has said, arguing that there are not very many cats that run loose around town and kill birds.

She added that the feral cats trapped by her organization are fed by a network of volunteers and “spend a lot of their time sleeping,” and typically spend their waking time chasing and catching rodents, not birds.

Sadlowski maintained that the proponents of the ordinance of relying on “junk science” to make the case against cats, a point backed up by the national Alley Cat Alliance (ACA).

An ACA bulletin issued some two years ago, based on an analysis by researcher Dr. Gregory Matthews of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, reported that the study Harris cited was based on outdated information, was not scientifically rigorous, and would not have been accepted for publication by a “peer reviewed” journal that sends out prospective articles for review by academics familiar with the area under review.

Faced with two sides that adamantly stuck by their arguments, the BOT opted to appoint the committee rather than simply approve the ordinance.

But according to some of those taking part in the committee discussions, it has not been going smoothly.

The two sides “haven’t found common ground at this point” wrote Schilling in an e-mail to The Sopris Sun, sent on Sept. 21.

Trustee Harvey, after noting that the numerical makeup of the committee seems rather evenly split between the opposing factions, said the two sides have yet to show themselves to be open to the arguments by the other side.

“I would encourage people on both sides (to) listen and try to empathize with the points made by the other side,” Harvey said.

When asked if that had happened at the first meeting, he waited a moment before responding, “No, it did not.”

Sadlowski agreed, saying of her opponents, “They just want to ram through this ordinance” and are not open to opposing viewpoints.

“The committee,” she said, “we’re on opposite ends of everything … the two sides will never meet.”

Sadlowski added that she is hopeful that the town will simply abandon the ordinance proposal and “do nothing. Leave the (existing nuisance-cat) ordinance in place, and leave us alone,” meaning allow her group to continue its work with the feral cats.

Harris, however, wrote in an e-mail that at the first meeting “we only had an hour” and that the committee “spent most of the hour in a fairly friendly debate.”

Concerning the idea of a recommendation based on an agreement from the two sides, Harris noted, “We have continued debate-type dialog all week through e-mails, but have not spoken (beyond what was said at the first meeting). And it was never determined that we were going to work on any agreements until the meeting.”

At this week’s meeting, she said, “we all hope to sit down to work,” and that the result may be a rewriting of the town’s existing nuisance-cat ordinance, rather than a push for adoption of the proposed new law.

“All we need to do is update it and clarify it,” she said of the existing ordinance.

Published in The Sopris Sun on September 24, 2015.