FOX 11 Investigates: Feral cat ordinances, concerns vary by community

Feral cat roaming neighborhood in Allouez (Mark Leland, WLUK)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- The subject of how to control the feral cat population roaming our neighborhoods can strike a nerve. That's what FOX 11 Investigates found with viewers when it aired an investigation into a Trap-Neuter-Return program operating in some communities surrounding Green Bay.

Viewers offered support and criticism of the TNR program run by Cats Anonymous, Inc. Others offered their own ideas on how to control the feral cat population and the concern of the cats being a public health hazard by spreading disease. Please note, shooting feral cats is illegal in Wisconsin.

As noted in our original report, different communities operate under different laws and concerns.

FOX 11 Investigates went back to the city of Green Bay and the village of Howard to show the different views in play.

"So, in the city of Green Bay we have two ordinances that do not allow any animal that is domesticated, cat, dog, snake, any reptile or amphibian to run lose," explained Mallory Meves, animal control officer with the Green Bay Police Department. "There’s a five foot right of way restriction. And then there’s an animal running at large law. No animal can run free on anyone’s property."

Meves tells FOX 11 Investigates if you feed and provide shelter to a feral cat, that makes you the owner, and therefore responsible for the animal. And by the way, feeding feral animals is not permitted in Green Bay.

"We also have a city ordinance against feeding any kind of animal out in the public, if it’s a feral animal, if it’s a domesticated cat but it’s feral," said Meves.

Violators could face fines and citations in Green Bay.

But in other communities, they’re playing by different rules. Monica Hoff is the animal control officer in the village of Howard.

"Our ordinance says all cats will be licensed. We just added a caveat 'except for feral cats that are enrolled in a qualifying TNR program will be exempt from this section,'" said Hoff, explaining feral cats in TNR programs are not part of the laws governing cats in the village.

Our initial FOX 11 Investigates report detailed how the TNR program of Cats Anonymous seeks out feral cats with the help of hundreds of volunteers. They trap, neuter and then return the cats to where they were caught.

TNR is also available in many other communities around the state. In the Fox Valley, TNR is offered through the Fox Valley Humane Association.

Coincidentally, Cats Anonymous is located in Green Bay where the TNR method is not approved.

Since our last report, Meves, following up on a complaint of a feral cat in the city, trapped one that was neutered in the TNR program—identified by its clipped left ear.

"I understand their intentions are good with this but obviously they’re knowingly violating our city’s ordinances," said Meves.

Meves says she wrote a citation for the violation that is currently pending through the Green Bay city attorney’s office. However, the city attorney's office has not issued the citation as of this writing.

"There is no one taking responsibility for this. If they’re the organization that’s obviously endorsing this, there’s a party to a crime," explained Meves.

Cats Anonymous reports over the past 12 years it has trapped, neutered and returned more than 12,500 feral cats to Northeast Wisconsin communities.

The organization got its start in 2005 after Wisconsin’s Conservation Congress considered removing feral cats from the protected species list. Then-Gov. Jim Doyle opposed the idea of shooting feral cats, as it gained national attention.

"What it does is sort of hold us up as a state that everybody’s kind of laughing at right now," Doyle said back in 2005 while the matter was being debated.

Ultimately the Wisconsin Natural Resources board dropped the matter. Feral cats are still protected.

"TNR really kind of sprung out of that because it’s really the only way that reduces the population," said Lisa Kay Peters with Cats Anonymous. "Taking this sort of sporadic approach to removing a few, based on nuisance calls or what not, doesn’t do anything in the long run they just reproduce."

No one disputes feral cats create problems. They kill birds, defecate in gardens and can spread disease.

TNR cats are given rabies shots and vaccinations, but it’s typically a one-time deal.

"If they’re out there and they’re not re-vaccinated, there’s a concern potentially of public exposure," warned Meves.

Hoff acknowledges a potential health risk, but views it as a minor concern.

"Well again, there’s a health risk with any kind of stray animal whether it be a raccoon or skunk," explained Hoff. "The alternative is to have no vaccinations at all. So, it’s not like TNR is perfect but it’s better than what we’re doing now in my opinion."

While the two sides are split on how to best humanely control the feral cat population, they do agree cat owners should have their own pets spayed or neutered.

Residents are advised to check with their local municipality about feral cat ordinances to insure you're in compliance with any local ordinances.

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