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No easy solution for cat problem

Cat food commercials make them look lovable, playful and mischievous, but for cats without homes, life on the streets of Ironton can turn a once purring disposition into more than city officials can ignore.

Friday, October 08, 1999

Cat food commercials make them look lovable, playful and mischievous, but for cats without homes, life on the streets of Ironton can turn a once purring disposition into more than city officials can ignore.

"We have numerous calls coming into the office about cats," Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said. "And it’s a situation the city is reviewing and trying to work with the Lawrence County Humane Society about, but there are no easy answers."

Felines are not considered domestic animals by the Ohio Revised Code and are therefore ungoverned by state law. If laws concerning cats are made, those decisions are left to local cities, towns and municipalities.

Other Ohio cities, such as Springfield and Dayton, have taken matters into their own hands. These cities have, through ordinances, regulated cat ownership similarly to the way the city officials regulate dog ownership, Cleary said.

"I’ve been researching these different communities and how they are dealing with the problem of cats running unregulated on the streets," he said. "Most of these ordinances seem like they have taken their dog ordinances and replaced the word ‘dog’ with the word ‘cat.’"

If Ironton city officials would propose an ordinance like other cities, cat owners would be required to license their animals, follow leash laws and keep the cats confined or indoors.

But, with the feline ability to jump and climb being much greater than that of most dogs, confining the cats would be more difficult, Cleary said.

"In meeting with the humane society, it seems that, although ordinances of this kind would help the problem, the only long-term solution would take several years of spaying and neutering these animals," he said. "This would decrease the cat population over the years, but we’re not likely to see an immediate decrease from that."

Even a program that would help residents spay their female feline animals would greatly reduce the population, said Debby Scarlotti, humane society member and volunteer.

"Information from the Humane Society of the United States says that one female cat and her female offspring can produce 420,000 cats in seven years," she said.

The new county animal abuse shelter, run by the humane society, takes cats when they have room available, but the growing number of county abuse cases must take precedent over animals that are simply unwanted. The unwanted animals are then left on the streets to fend for themselves and can begin increasing the cat overpopulation problem well before they have lived one full year, she added.

"We take in all that we have room and funds for, but that is very limited –  we need funds to help care for them because they do have to have their shots, and we spay and neuter them," she said. "There have been instances where people have paid us to take a cat, and we get several calls about cats, but there are only so many we can take. There have been times where people have just left a box of kittens only two or three weeks old outside our door and we tried to bottle feed them, but we lost all but one."

It is, however, imperative that city officials take not only a close look at the problem, but also find a solution of some kind soon, she added.

Cats living in abandoned houses, in alleys, and being allowed to run loose and over populate the city causes more than just a nuisance –  it can cause a health problem and other immediate dangers to residents, city health officials said.

"There have been a few instances where we get a call at the police department and we have no choice but to dispatch the dog warden," Cleary said. "For example, if the animal is suspected to be rabid, we cannot allow that sort of disease to spread to residents or other animals. But for the most part, without legislation and a proper place with enough space to house all these cats, there isn’t much we can do."

But the city and the county remain without a facility to house cats in, and a government-funded cattery is an impossibility because of the lack of laws governing cats, Cleary said. A cattery would have to be a city or county facility, he added.

"I think it is very likely that council will pass some type of ordinance similar to those of other cities in the near future," he said. "The council members are all, to my knowledge, aware of the problem and have been very cooperative in working with this office to find a solution. They want to solve the problem for the residents, but we all want to make sure it is a viable solution."