LA Animal Services' TNR 'Cat Program' Threatens Public Health and Safety (Part 3)
The City of Los Angeles is on the verge of making a major, intrusive decision regarding the lives of all residents and property owners as the City Council votes on how thousands of stray/feral cats will be “managed” within the city limits. The public and Council should not be deceived that this is just about cats. The proposed “Cat Program” will affect every animal, child and adult in the city. It will affect those who own/rent property, maintain a business location, and especially those who suffers from allergies, asthma, or anyone with an immunosuppressive disorder; such as, AIDS.
This Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program should be of imminent concern to any woman who is—or intends to become—pregnant. It will affect schools and employees in any building on public land where feral cat colonies may be established. It will impact landlords who have tenants with health conditions affected by cats, and it will affect other animals exposed to highly concentrated numbers of fleas and other external and internal parasites transmissible through contact with cats or cat feces, or which can become airborne.
While Trap-Neuter-“Return” was formerly used for feeding existing cats, ONLY with the permission of the landowner or administrator at the location, under the Los Angeles Animal Services’ proposed plan, the program is Trap-Neuter-“Release” (meaning new cats can be brought to any area) and it will become an entitlement to establish a feeding station for stray/feral cats on any street, sidewalk, alley or public easement in any community (with the exception of small “environmentally sensitive areas.”) In addressing the issues of “community cats”, the health and safety of humans has been ignored.
Be aware that the proposed “Cat Program” eliminates the rights of property owners to remove the cats or interfere with the encroachment of the cats on private property. It grants a legal status with special privileges to volunteer cat feeders (called “cat colony operators”) to maintain and feed feral cats at your property line and exempts them from responsibility for the roaming of the cats and any nuisance/destructive acts by the cats.
The proposed Trap/Neuter/Release Program planned for Los Angeles will not solve the problem of stray cats because it lacks elements of addressing the lack of responsibility by cat owners who fail to keep pet cats indoors and who abandon them and, instead, makes feral cats an immeasurable, expensive burden on Los Angeles taxpayers.
VOICE YOUR OPINION
It is not too late for you to voice your opinion and have an impact on whether Los Angeles should become a stray/feral cat sanctuary city. If you live in Los Angeles, immediately contact your Council office and Mayor Eric Garcetti at www.lacity.org. If you have a business or plan to open a business in Los Angeles, this may be your only opportunity to address this issue before your find feral cats impacting your clients/customers, with no legal options.
The Bureau of Engineering states that November 4 is the last date to comment to their feral-cat expert, Catalina.Hernandez@lacity.org However, it is unlikely that facts or public opinion will get much consideration there. The Bureau of Engineering has received a $52,000 payment from special-interest groups through a City fund. The”Cat Program” written by Brenda Barnette and Jim Bickhart of former-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office was submitted as a “guideline” for the development a Mitigated Negative Decision allowing the release of thousands of stray/feral cats, and denying property owners the right to have them removed or to stop them from encroaching on yards, porches, business locations was part of that Program.
WHAT OTHERS IN TNR-PROGRAM AREAS ARE SAYING:
TORONTO - “Harding Boulevard…just hasn’t been the same since the ‘neighbors from hell’ moved in, residents say.,The feline group dwelling on Harding Blvd. is one of over 300 registered Trap/Neuter/Return (TNR) cat colonies in the city, some of which exist on residential streets.
“The devastation and damage they’ve caused is incredible,” says long-time Harding Blvd. resident Jane Flanders. “I have to clean out half a recycling bag full of feces from my front lawn all the time. … They’re killing all the songbirds in my backyard.”
“On September 16, 2013, the State of New Mexico, Department of Game & Fish, sent a letter to Mayor Berry of Albuquerque encouraging the City and the Animal Welfare Department to “discontinue support” of the Trap-Neuter-Return policy which releases feral cats into the city’s streets.
“The letter, signed by Cal Baca, Chief, Wildlife Management Division, states:
“In 2012, Best Friends Animal Society partnered with Albuquerque (City) Animal Welfare Department to begin a three-year Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, funded by a grant from PetSmart Charities. In addition, the City has worked with New Mexico Animal Friends to cover the cost of sterilizing street cats. The Department of Game and Fish (Department) encourages the City and the Animal Welfare Department to discontinue support of these programs.
“The Edmonds City Council has voted 6-1 to add cats in the "Running-at-large” ordinance already on the books. The law is aimed at preventing animals from freely roaming in the city, according to King5 News. (Sept. 05, 2013)
“This decision to include felines followed testimony from numerous residents in regard to the nuisance and dangers posed by outdoor cats--ranging from the diseases they can carry and transmit, to the birds and other wildlife they kill, and the fur, fleas and other parasites they leave after lounging uninvited on outdoor furniture in neighbors’ yards.
“Dr. Rick Gerhold at the Center for Wildlife Health at the University of Tennessee, states in a 2011 article entitled, Cats as Carriers of Disease, that toxoplasmosis has been associated with increased risk of schizophrenia, autism disorders, other neuro-inflammatory diseases and can occasionally cause eye damage.
“The parasite thrives and reproduces in the intestines of cats and can cause neurological impairment that lead to abortions and birth defects in humans and is a major cause of systemic infection and death for immune-suppressed patients,” he writes.”
LOS ANGELES ‘CAT PROGRAM’ IS NOT ABOUT LOVING OR HATING CATS
This is not an issue of whether you love or hate cats. Nothing is more tragic than seeing homeless cats huddled under greasy cars and trying to dash across busy streets. However, Brenda Barnette’s plan will not address those issues. The cats will still be outside with no human protection, and the proposed “Cat Program” will further alienate them in the community by legalizing their intrusion into private property, where they can create an imminent to children, adults and pets.
The rights of the cats and the “colony operator” to feed will become a statute and will defy universal warnings against feeding pets outside because it attracts wildlife (raccoons, coyotes, skunks, etc.,) which will further endanger the cats themselves (and humans and pets.) There is also no remedy in this program for the numerous rodents and insects that are attracted to outdoor food and water sources. Although the promoters of TNR would like to have us believe that everything is picked up neatly to the feeder after the cats have eaten, in fact in many areas, bags of dry food are merely dumped on the ground because not all feral cats eat at the same time.
The L.A. “Cat Program,” will have a devastating effect on residential/commercial property rights all over the city. It includes what are called by the Bureau of Engineering “minor changes” to the Los Angeles Municipal Code which will affect value of property in the city by increasing the number of (sterilized or unsterilized) owned cats allowed per property; and exempts stray/feral cats from any limitation on numbers or location (other than a few “environmentally sensitive habitats.”)
Two prior Opposing Views articles (links below) have discussed the impact on private property rights and the political and financial maneuvers that transpired via Jim Bickhart and Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette to produce the proposed “Cat Program” and assure it received a Negative Mitigated Declaration under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.
The four non-profit groups that donated the $52,000 for this review/decision are all involved in providing spay/neuter services in their own facilities and will benefit from the multi-millions of dollars that is available through grants and donations and augmented by City funds diverted from the Pet Sterilization Trust Fund for owned animals to feral cats through passage of this Program.
WILL TRAP/NEUTER/RELEASE REDUCE L.A.’s FERAL CAT POPULATION?
Estimates of how many stray/feral cats exist in Los Angeles (or any large city) is purely speculative. The Feral Cat Caretakers’ Coalition website states that, “The Department of Animal Services estimates there are 3 million feral cats and kittens in the Los Angeles area alone.”There is no indication of how this was computed or that the feral cat population in Los Angeles is growing or that there is any crisis that requires the City to give away millions of dollars to subsidize the proposed program.
In fact, the “Cat Program”is counterproductive in that it proposes reducing the money allotted to sterilizing OWNED cats (and thus reduce the real source of the problem) BEFORE they are allowed outside by owners.
The only formula that has been offered in regard to whether TNR can be effective is the theory applied to disease control which states that 70% of a species population must be vaccinated against any specific disease before it is an effective deterrent. Thus, it is has been speculated that 70% of a stationary cat population (in smaller towns where there is little migration) could result in a status quo—in other words, attrition would be approximately the same as the number of kittens produced by the remaining 30% of unaltered cats. This is not applicable to large cities with transient animal/human demographics.
BUREAU OF ENGINEERING DIVERTS DOG-LICENSE/PET STERILIZATION FUNDS
Oddly, the Bureau of Engineering approved, in its CEQA decision, a change in the Animal (Pet) Sterilization Trust Fund which would allow dog-license money to be diverted from its city-designated use of providing spay/neuters for ONLY owned pets (mainly low-income residents) to allow payment for sterilization of (unlimited numbers of) feral cats.
It would have seemed they should have omitted any comment on this issue. Under what authority can the Public Works Department change how State and City designated animal-related funds can legally be spent?
HOW WAS THE GENERAL PUBLIC NOTIFIED OF THE ‘CAT PROGRAM’?
Copies of the “Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration” by the Bureau of Engineering (a de facto defendant in the lawsuit by the Urban Wildlands Group which caused this “cat study” to be performed) were mailed to a limited number of interested parties by the Bureau of Engineering, according to a notice on October 3, 2013. This complex document appears to be available in English only, which means many L.A. residents may not properly understand it or the consequences, even if they find out about it and try to locate it.
It stated that “circulation” of the Initial Study for a 30-day Public Review Period from October 3 to November 4, 2013, “…is intended to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the proposed project.” Most city residents have little interest in a “cat program’ and won’t know they will be affected.
Since we had not seen any public/media notice about a “Cat Program” that would allow feral cat colonies to be set up all over the city under TNR, we decided to see how the average city resident could obtain this “Notice.” First, we went to the City website, www.lacity.org. From there, we searched separately for “cats,” “TNR,” “Cat Program,” “feral cats,” and “CEQA”—all ended up being redirected to unrelated linksor showed “no results.” Then we reviewed the “Notice” and realized that you needed to enter http://eng.lacity.org/techdocs/emg/citywide_cat.htm Why didn’t we think of that?!!!
(Unfortunately, an attempt to view the site on November 3 discovered that “the address can’t be found…”)
WHY DIDN’T THE PUBLIC KNOW ABOUT THIS PROPOSAL?
The proposed ‘Cat Program’ was devised by LAAS GM Brenda Barnette and former aide to Mayor Villaraigosa Jim Bickhart (not an attorney.) It was brought to the Animal Services Commission as a completed document and Commissioners were asked (and lobbied by Bickhart at the meeting) to approve funding by special-interest donations. There was NO public hearing at any time before that to discuss the elements of the program.
Only Commissioner Kathleen Riordan opposed the use of the codified donation trust fund in this manner without a formal City Attorney opinion. She also wrote that she was concerned about some of the LA Municipal Code changes to land use in the “Cat Program” that were not set for public hearing. Commissioner Riordan questioned the lack of public input under the Brown Act open-meetings law.
A California Public Records Act response reveals that Bickhart provided her with legal advice regarding public input on the program and stated that she would not get a City Attorney’s opinion. He also told her that no item in the proposed Cat Program could be voted on by the Commission prior to a CEQA review, in an e-mail from his personal e-mail account, dated August 13, 2013, the night before the Commission meeting.
IS THE PROPOSED ‘CAT PROGRAM’ GOOD FOR CATS?
Anyone who has trapped a feral cat knows that re-trapping the same cat is almost impossible. That means that a cat who becomes injured but is still mobile or one who becomes ill in a colony is almost impossible to isolate for care.
Although they are supposedly vaccinated before they are released into the colony, by being outdoors they are subject to constant exposure to diseases. And, under a T-N-Release program, new cats with unknown health histories can be introduced from shelters or other areas inside/outside the city and infect the colony.
Sadly, it is not unusual for feral cat colonies to be abandoned by a “feeder” for various personal, financial or health reasons. This results in a large group of unfed, desperate, covetous cats who had become dependent now competing for the small amount of available food from other sources in an area, including garbage bins, outside pet food, and small prey (birds and rodents.)
Many wildlife experts criticize making any feral or wild animal dependent upon a human and causing it to lose its fear of natural predators (including humans) thus suppressing its natural survival instincts and hunting/foraging skills by providing an artificial food supply.
‘CAT PROGRAM’ WILL NEGATIVELY AFFECT LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES
The Bureau of Engineering is insuring us that this proposed program will have a “less than significant potential impact.” On WHOM? The impact on the city will be greatly significant and greatest in low-income areas where residents can least afford to have their communities’ health/safety and privacy rights endangered and where they have the least time and money to address the resultant problems!
BRIEF BACKGROUND ON TNR AND REQUIRED CEQA REVIEW
The Urban Wildlands Group, includingthe Los Angeles Audubon Society and several additional bird conservancy groups, won a law suit in late 2009 against the City of Los Angeles. The judge found that the City had been illegally implementing a TNR program using City funds for the spay/neuter of feral/stray cats in violation of the provisions of the Animal (Pet) Sterilization Trust Fund, which restricted these funds/vouchers to owned cats and dogs. A permanent injunction was entered in early 2010. The injunction remains in place unless and until the City reviews its TNR program under CEQA
However, the injunction does not affect individuals or groups who wish to Trap/Neuter/Return feral cats using donated or private funds to accomplish this. This is also true if this Cat Program is not approved. TNR has proceeded in the City, but it is being done by private donations and funding. The feeders, however, are subject to trespassing, litter, and nuisance laws, and the City's ban on feeding non-domesticated mammalian predators (e.g., skunks, raccoons, and coyotes).
IS IT REALLY TRAP-NEUTER-“ABANDON”? – CA PENAL CODE VIOLATION
Feral cats are not “wild” animals. They are former pets, or the offspring of domesticated pets which have been abandoned/dumped outside by owners or have been born to a cat that is left outside without human protection/socialization.
The proposed program includes the “release” of feral cats and indicates it is a life-saving option for thousands of feral cats impounded in the City’s animal shelters. California Penal Code prohibits willful abandonment of any animal; and “Releasing” into the streets any domesticated animal over which a human has had control is “abandonment.”
CA Penal Code 597s.
(a) Every person who willfully abandons any animal is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) This section shall not apply to the release or rehabilitation and release of native
California wildlife pursuant to statute or regulations of the California Department of Fish and Game.
FERAL CAT FEEDERS (STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT)
While large feral cat/TNR organizations conduct major fundraisers and solicit funds, the feral cat feeder (for the most part) is on her/his own and provides for the cats from personal funds, other than for the spay/neuter and vaccinations when the cat is first trapped.
You may have a hard time even identifying who is doing the feeding, because cat-colony operators do not have to be identified to attain an official status. They are not listed, monitored, licensed, permitted, or sworn by the City. They do not even have to live in your neighborhood. They are nameless individuals who deny ownership of unlimited number of cats they either spay/neuter and return to a location or bring from other areas.
The “feeders” are well meaning and dedicated; however, the October incident in which a 19-year Los Angeles Fire Department engineer and his mother became engaged in a physical confrontation with a stray-cat feeder in midcity L.A. demonstrates how emotional this issue can become. Los Angeles Fireman and His Mother Charged with Beating Woman Feeding Feral Cats
Here are a few liability matters that were conveniently overlooked in the “Cat Program.” Feral cat feeders (“cat colony operators”) do not claim ownership of cats, so who does the property owner notify if there is a serious incident involving any/all of the cats adjacent or encroaching on his/her property?
How will barking-dog issues be handled? This is already a problem, which will be exacerbated by increased stray/feral cats walking on block walls, fighting, yowling and roaming through yards. Do the dog owners then have to remove their dogs?
Feral cat feeders (“cat colony operators”) do not have a legal status under city law but are being given special privileges and entitlements to use of public property that others do not have (for instance, you cannot even feed pigeons in a large area of Los Angeles – LAMC 53.43, because of the health hazard their excrement creates.). Who is liable if the feeding of stray cats results in an injury caused by negligence or by the cats that have been placed at that location. Does the City pay the claim or will the homeowner be sued since it is on his/her sidewalk?
SHOW US THE MITIGATION
The Los Angeles City Bureau of Land Management’s Mitigated Negative Declaration does not tell us how the dangers to wildlife all over the city will be “mitigated.” It merely restricts cats from being fed near a few environmentally sensitive habitat areas and removes all limitations on stray/feral cats being fed anywhere else.
The “mitigation” establishes entitlements and diverts funds designated for owned pets to be used for stray/feral cats; it increases the number of altered or unaltered cats per property and does not require microchipping; and it removes all limits from the number of unowned (feral) cats that can be on any city property.
The so-called “mitigation” proposed in the report by the Bureau of Engineering is merely to allow TNR in ALL areas of the city, except those few locations designated as environmentally sensitive. The sole mitigation there is to not allow feeding within one mile. Feeding is allowed by The Los Angeles River (including in the downtown Los Angeles area) and the Pacoima Wash, both areas where the cats will be in tremendous danger from predators.
But we are not to worry, if someone feeds cat closer than a mile from the habitats, the Department of Animal Services with less than 60 full-time officers responding to hundreds of calls a day for extremely demanding, dangerous, and often life-threatening situations will also become feral-cat-colony cops?
WHAT SHOULD CITY DO WITH THE PROPOSED “CAT PROGRAM”?
The proposed ‘Cat Program’ raises alarming problems for property owners and all residents/businesses in the City of Los Angeles. It needs to be rejected in its present form by the City Council. At a minimum, public hearings at all Neighborhood Councils need to be held, advising stakeholders of the full implications of this proposal. Public meetings should also be scheduled in non-governmental venues and with interpreters available.
Any ‘Cat Program’ must be sent to the Planning and Land Use Management Committee and Planning Department for thorough consideration and evaluation before the Council votes.