Public Backlash Over Proposed Animal Ordinance Likely To Force Norwich To Seek Other Options

By: Tyler Murphy

Public backlash over proposed animal ordinance likely to force Norwich to seek other options Arrow Laundry & Dry Cleaning at 68 E Main Street is one of the main concerns in controlling the local stray cat population in the City of Norwich. The business bulk feeds the animals on a regular basis. (Tyler Murphy photo)

NORWICH – Will Norwich police soon be stripping tickets for people feeding stray dogs and cats?

Maybe, but probably not.

A public hearing on the issue will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the Norwich City courtroom.

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City officials received a tremendous amount of public response in the last few days, with a number of local and far flung citizens making their discontent obvious via email, Facebook and phone calls.

Some board members even had their city contact and Facebook information passed between activist animal groups on social media platforms across the country. The result was hundreds of responses and messages being sent to officials in a few days.

The proposal made this week is to consider implementing a law that is primarily aimed at banning the feeding of stray cats. Though as written, the law could apply to all animals, even bird feeders.

The proposed law states, “No person shall dispense, feed, or otherwise make available to any species of wildlife or cats, either on such person’s property or on the property of another or of the City, any type or amount of food in a manner that: 1) Creates an unclean, unsafe, or unsanitary condition. 2) Results in the accumulation of feces. 3) Attracts other wild life, vermin or pests.”

The entire city council and mayor helped form the law, which was then sponsored by Ward 6 Alderman Robert Jeffery, who is an adopted-pet owner himself.

He is trying to address complaints and concerns from some of his constituency over a growing and rampant stray cat population. Officials said the issue is primarily driven by poor city apartment renters who leave food outside their doors. A larger issue is a couple of problematic residences that routinely leave food out in bulk, attracting dozens of wild animals and stray cats every day.

The city is prohibited by New York State law from funding catch and release programs with tax money, that would spay or neuter the animals. The city was also hoping to address the situation in a timely manner. The process of contacting third party groups and then raising the donations for them to do the work, was becoming problematic.

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“I have no idea what it might cost but let’s say each cat costs $30. If there are 100 cats, there are probably more, that would be $3,000,” explained Ward 1 Alderman Matt Caldwell, as an example.

The city has also had a hard time locating local groups to do the work.

Officials did attempt to talk down some of the most problematic city cat feeders with no success.

“It’s a real problem and encouraging people to be reasonable has fallen on deaf ears in some neighborhoods,” said Mayor Christine Carnrike. “Certainly, I applaud those who love their pets. I personally don’t have any, but I do love animals, but feral cats are more than a nuisance.”

So instead the city settled on something they could do right now, by trying to form a law that would ban feeding animals if officials considered it problem-causing. It sounds like common sense.

The questions many asked though were: “How do we enforce the law fairly? What about the welfare of the animals? Would this even solve the problem?”

Caldwell said Thursday he would not vote to support the proposal and wasn’t sure a vote would even take place given the response. He hopes the public hearing would lead to a constructive alternative.

Caldwell was in a minority when he expressed skepticism at a recent board meeting Feb. 5., asking, “My concern is, the question is, will this solve the problem?”

Ward 2 Alderman Linda Kays-Biviano was laughed at by some when she expressed concern for what would happen to the stray cats. “Do we have any idea where the cats would go,” she asked.

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