Close to 50 people filled the Urbana City Council chambers to standing-room-only capacity on Tuesday, many wearing stickers protesting the proposed ban on feeding feral cats, deer, geese and other animals. After more than 40 minutes of public comments, the council voted to table the ordinance until a committee can be formed to address the overpopulation of wild and feral animals in Urbana with input from Trap-Neuter-Release advocates.
Three Urbana residents spoke during public comments. Speakers also included Dayna Parks, representing Barely Used Pets, a shelter in Urbana. The many other speakers from outside the city included Robin Craft, founder and president of the Black & Orange Cat Foundation based in Plain City, and Deborah Smith and Jody Patton, co-founders of Calico TNR, based in Springfield. Before the start of public comments, council president Marty Hess said that he was most interested to hear from people who lived within city limits, but that the others may be called upon to speak at future committee meetings.
“The Black & Orange Cat Foundation has spent tens of thousands of dollars in grant money here in our county in the past two years to spay and neuter 700 cats,” said Urbana resident Angela Van Hoose, who also wrote a letter to each of the council members. “If you were to calculate out, half of those cats being females, in a lifetime a feral cat will give birth to 100 cats, and then their offspring will continue to populate, so what we’ve done has been very effective whether it’s been seen or not. One thing I do want to say is we are all willing to work with you. If there is a specific area of the county that is having an issue with feral cats, what you need to do is let us know so that we can go and trap them. We’re noticing a huge difference, the shelters are noticing a huge difference, and it’s not just us because we’re just one of four rescues in this county that’s doing something to take care of the feral cat population and some of the loosely owned cats.”
“TNR works, and it is the only way to truly cut down on the number of unwanted cats,” said Craft. “Preventing the feeding of the cats does not do this. The cats will just look for other feeding sources, which may then be people’s trash, or their bird feeders, or killing birds, making them a nuisance and causing people to get angry with them, something that does not happen when they have someone that is taking care of them and feeding them. Feeding bans discourage TNR, which has been proven to be the only way to effectively stabilize cat populations. With the feeding ban in place, TNR will be impossible for us because we use food to trap the cats, and we have to set up an established routine of getting the cats to come to a certain area with food at particular times. If this feeding ban is implemented I will not consider Urbana a hospitable place for TNR, and I will no longer be able to apply for grants that are specific to the Urbana area.”
Cat lovers unite
Several speakers elicited applause from the audience for saying that they would not comply with any feeding ban because their love for animals is more important to them than any law.
“If I were a politician right now, I would want to be on the side of solutions,” said Parks. “I would want to be on the side of all the animal lovers who will roll up their sleeves and work together. Maybe this is an opportunity for a call to action.
“Most people will disregard your ban, and I am telling you that bluntly,” she continued. “They will sneak and they will feed. They will do it in the dark of night, we will do it by flashlight, we will do it however we have to because those little eyes looking up at us mean more to us than you do, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully.”
She added that a feeding ban would not stop cats from breeding, resulting in the deaths of many kittens. She said feeding bans are nearly impossible to enforce because there are many dedicated TNR volunteers, many of them elderly citizens, who would gladly accept a citation rather than violate their conscience.
Council member Cledis Scott asked if anyone in the crowd was there defending wild deer or geese, saying that this was the original purpose of the ordinance and that feral cats just happened to be included in the same category. Council member Tony Pena asked his fellow council members how many of them owned cats or dogs and noted that every single one of them raised their hands.
In response to a question about whether a feeding ban would apply to squirrel feeders, city Law Director Mark Feinstein clarified the purpose of the ordinance he had written.
“The point of the original draft was to do exactly what it has done,” he said. “We wanted discussion. We want you here, we want input, we want to clear up those ambiguities. We don’t want perverse results as a result of what we’re all trying to accomplish collectively.”
He added that the ordinance requires three readings to get public input. As a result of learning about TNR, he said, council needs to reconsider the ordinance regarding animals running at large.
Community Development Manager Doug Crabill reminded council members that the next work session is a joint session with the Champaign County Commission. He advised that council address the formation of a TNR committee at the first work session in February. He also suggested adding wording to address chickens in the ordinance, which was last updated in 1998.
Also at this meeting, council heard the first reading of an ordinance authorizing the city to enter an indigent defense agreement with the Champaign County commissioners, an ordinance formally accepting the annexation of two parcels currently owned by the Board of Education of the Urbana City School District for the new PK-8 school site, and a resolution authorizing the city to apply for and accept an “assistance to firefighters” grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Council member Dwight Paul was re-appointed to a third term as council president pro tem, and Amy Deere was retained as council clerk for the year 2018.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304