Trustee defends cats’ rights
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Carbondale’s elected leaders once again spent a lot of time talking about cats on Tuesday night, though the talk focused on municipal fiscal issues as much as it did on whether cats are guilty of killing too many songbirds in this region.
In the end, the Board of Trustees decided to direct town staff to draw up a proposed ordinance governing the lives and activities of cats and cat owners, but with options built in to the draft ordinance regarding such issues as whether to require that cats be spayed or neutered, whether they be vaccinated against rabies and feline leukemia, and whether the new law should include mandatory licensing and installation of electronic identification chips under the skin of all owned cats in town.
In addition, some of the trustees were skeptical about an estimate from Police Chief Gene Schilling that implementing the new ordinance could cost as much as $20,000 annually.
“I think $20,000 is too much,” said Trustee Frosty Merriott, who has been a proponent of an ordinance intended to keep cats under tighter control than they have been historically.
The underlying issues of the proposed ordinance have been discussed at length since July, when Mary Harris, president of the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society, appealed to the trustees for help in what she said was rampant predation of the local bird population by out-of-control cats.
Harris, claiming that birds were killing billions of birds nationally and that the problem was reaching a critical stage locally, convinced the trustees to call for an ordinance with strict controls on the movement and activities of cats.
But Harris’ statistics and motives were called into question by others, most prominently local real estate broker Cindy Sadlowski, who for 15 years has run a program called the Street Cat Coalition that has worked to trap, spay and neuter feral cats and then release them as a way of keeping down the cat population.
The resulting uproar led to the trustees’ creation of a special committee charged with coming up with a law that both sides could live with.
That proposed ordinance was before the trustees this week.
“I see it as kind of like the issues of seat belts, tobacco use and climate change,” said Merriott at the trustee meeting, explaining that it is a matter of education of the public as much as one of creating laws.
“So, we’re trying to address it,” concluded Merriott, who was one of two trustees who served as liaison to the cat committee.
Others on the board, however, had strong views in opposition to the ordinance being proposed.
Trustee Pam Zentmyer, for instance, declared her reluctance to require rabies and feline leukemia vaccinations for cats, maintaining that the vaccinations themselves can cause fatal reactions in the recipients, particularly in older cats.
And, she said, there has not been an outbreak of either disease in Garfield County in the past three years, so the requirement would be meaningless as well as potentially harmful.
Citing the proposed ordinance’s reference to cats that have bitten or scratched someone as “aggressive” animals in need of inoculation, she said, “Every cat on the planet has bitten or scratched someone. It’s part of their … mystique,” a remark that provoked laughter among the trustees and those in the audience.
“I would say that’s their right as an animal,” (if provoked) Zentmyer continued. “It’s what they do.”
Zentmyer also objected to the ordinance calling for the town to spend up to $20,000 to implement the ordinance, and for the police department to be the agency in charge of enforcing the law.
“It’s an irrational expectation of our budget and of the police staff,” she said.
Trustee Katrina Byars also spoke up, but against the focus of the proposed ordinance, saying, “I don’t think that the problem is nuisance cats, or scratching cats.”
The problem under discussion, she said, is the disappearance of birds, which she said is a function of habitat disappearance, particularly in riparian areas, which she said is the place where birds nest and hatch their eggs.
Rather than spend $20,000 on the cat ordinance, she said, the money would be better used to rehabilitate and restore bird habitat, pointing to the Delaney Nature Park as an example where she argued that roaming and noisy dogs have driven away large numbers of birds.
Zentmyer agreed, remarking, “There’s probably been more loss (of birds) there than from the predators.”
In the end the trustees called for staff to determine whether it is legal for the town to require vaccinations, and look at the licensing requirement, before drawing up a proposed ordinance for the trustees’ consideration.
In other action the trustees:
• Approved a liquor license renewal and change in management for the Black Nugget Saloon;
• Promoted Ken Harrington from an alternate position to full member on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and appointed Lauren Suhrbier to the open alternate’s position on the commission;
• Approved a special use permit for a three-room bed & breakfast business at 378 Euclid Ave., under the management of owner Kay Hagman and her partner, Larry Gottlieb, along with a variance permitting the couple to build an accessory dwelling unit where they will live.
• Approved a new business in town, the Laughing Dog Group, which will make marijuana infused products for retail and medical marijuana outlets.
Published in The Sopris Sun on October 29, 2015.