Approaching common ground with South Bethany’s cats

Date Published: 
March 31, 2017

The draft of South Bethany’s proposed new law on feral cats begins where the complaints began: by prohibiting people from feeding wild mammals, abandoned cats or stray cats. Thus, people may continue feeding their own house pets or wild birds but may not leave food in such a way that wild or stray animals are likely to consume it.

At the past two meetings on the topic, some people were very critical of the Town’s interest in trapping and removing animals. But the goal isn’t to be trapping animals full-time, Mayor Pat Voveris responded. It’s just an option for dealing with nuisance animals by transporting them to “an animal shelter, sanctuary or pound that does not practice euthanasia,” the ordinance states. That usually costs hundreds of dollars per animal.

The ordinance still allows for trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs that local volunteers have long used in Delaware, including in South Bethany.

Terri Nicholson volunteers her time regularly as a TNR trapper. She repeatedly encouraged residents or Town Hall to tell her about stray or feral cats. She will take them to be spayed, neutered, chipped and/or vaccinated. Depending on their sociability, Nicholson then returns the cats to the wild, gives them to farms for mouse-catching or adopts them out.

Councilman Wayne Schrader asked Nicholson about her procedure for picking up and finding homes for stray/feral cats, so that South Bethany’s new policy wouldn’t stop her current service.

In February, Millville Pet Stop owner Willia Peoples had taken things a step further, suggesting that the Town allow feeding stations across town, to spread cats a little more evenly, versus having them congregate all on one street. She explained a system of collars that would allow the cats, but not other animals, to access the food containers.

But the Charter & Ordinance Committee will still need rewrites on the proposed law. Indeed, Chairperson John Fields called this one of the “toughest” ordinances he’s reviewed.

The public-nuisance section of the code is problematic for resident Sandi Roberts, who asked, “How are you going to determine excessive barking of dogs?”

Because the ordinance grants the town manager the option of capturing nuisance animals, she said she’s worried that one grumpy neighbor could cause the family dog to be impounded because of the ordinance’s ban on any animal that “barks, whines, howls, crows or cackles in an excessive, continuous or untimely fashion.”

Voveris said the section is meant as a courtesy for neighbors, and the current draft relies on the town manger’s judgement. But the possibility exists for pets to be apprehended and shipped to a no-kill shelter or pound.

The ordinance will also define the difference between cats that are feral (unaccustomed to human interaction), stray (having potential to be re-domesticated) or abandoned (any cat lacking identification).

Details are online at the “Cats & Our Community” link on www.southbethany.org.

Many local and regional groups provide TNR programs, including Coastal Cats, Cats Around Town Society (CATS) and more. More information is available on the groups’ websites.