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C’dale cat committee moves closer to a compromise

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Third meeting slated

John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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A committee working on Carbondale’s controversial cat-crackdown ordinance came a little closer to finding common ground between two entrenched factions at a meeting on Sept. 24, but not before a few fireworks were lobbed into the tense atmosphere of a town hall meeting room.

“I will stop,” declared local real-estate agent Cindy Sadlowski, whose Street Cat Coalition has been working to trap, spay and release feral cats (cats that are wild and live on their own) for the past 15 years, thereby preventing feral cats from reproducing and cutting down on their numbers as the adult cats age and die off.

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Sadlowski feels an effort to pass a law restricting the movement and independence of cats is unwarranted and intrusive. She maintains that the real causes of bird population declines are habitat loss, disturbance by development and other human activities, and pollution.

If the town persists in passing what she feels are unneeded laws, she once told The Sopris Sun, “It’s like a slap in the face” to her, her organization and the organization’s many volunteer helpers and supporters.

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“So, you’ll take your ball and go home,” said Trustee Frosty Merriott, who with Trustee Allyn Harvey was at the meeting as a liaison from the Board of Trustees (BOT).

“I’ll take my ball and go home,” confirmed Sadlowski, who has been unhappy about the proposed new ordinance since it was brought up by another long time local, Mary Harris, president of the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society.

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“They’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Sadlowski has said, arguing that there are not very many domestic cats that run loose around town and kill birds, and that the feral cats that remain in town are fed by volunteers and get too lazy to chase birds.

“Most cats, once they’re spayed and neutered … they get fat and they stop hunting,” she said at the committee meeting.

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Harris initially raised the issue in July, when she informed the BOT that studies have shown cats are killing birds at an alarming rate all over the U.S., to the tune of perhaps billions of birds a year.

One study she cited, the “State of the Birds 2014,” has only minimal references to cat predation as a cause of the decline of bird populations around the U.S.

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“Habitat loss is by far the greatest cause of bird population declines,” states the report, but it adds, “Humans also kill billions of birds in the U.S. annually through more direct actions, such as allowing outdoor cats to prey upon birds.”

Harris has cited other reports, some of which Sadlowski has derisively termed “junk science.” Sadlowski has cited one report that was debunked by a statistician working on behalf of a national organization, Alley Cat Alliance, which opposes the kind of ordinance that Harris has championed.

While Harris argued at one point that cats stand accused of killing more than four billion birds every year, a chart contained in the State of the Birds report maintains that cats kill 2.4 billion birds per year in this country.

The chart also offers data from Canada, where cats reportedly kill a much smaller number, estimated at 195 million birds a year.

The Carbondale committee, which so far has had two meetings since it was created by the BOT in early September, started by debating the merits of a draft ordinance that would require cat owners to license their cats, have identifying computer chips embedded under a cat’s skin, and to keep cats restricted to the home property or put them on a leash when they leave the property.

At the latest meeting, the members of the committee seemed to be moving away from the draft ordinance, and toward rewriting, updating and strengthening provisions in the town’s existing “nuisance cat” ordinance (chapter 8.12 in the municipal code).

“We started out,” noted Trustee Frosty Merriott, “to try to say cat owners should be responsible for their cats” and not let them roam free.

If that can be done by revising the existing ordinance, Merriott, Harris and others agreed, that might be enough.

Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, who was acting as chair of the Sept. 24 meeting, suggested there were three main points to be settled — owners should be required to keep their cats either at home or on a leash; the cats should be vaccinated; and owners who violated the town’s nuisance cat code should a steeper fine than had been applied in the past.

If the committee members could agree on those points, Shilling suggested, the committee could pass that along to the trustees as a recommendation.

Harris, who regularly returned to the idea that cats are killing an unacceptable number of birds locally and nationally, nevertheless said she was open to rewriting the existing ordinance rather than trying to get a new ordinance passed.

“I’m willing to negotiate,” she told the others rather than “going around and around in a spiral” arguing endlessly.

The committee is scheduled to hold it’s third meeting on Oct. 1 at Town Hall, starting at 9 a.m.

Published in The Sopris Sun on October 1, 2015.

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