By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Between volunteers of non-profit groups and local residents, members of the public stepped up to help troubleshoot strategies in addressing the ongoing issue of feral cats in Bristol.
Dozens of people from the Bristol community (and outside Bristol) recently attended a community meeting to find solutions and to create a strategy and resources list with the goal of humanely reducing and controlling the feral cat population in the city.
The meeting served as a response to the concerns brought up during the January City Council meeting, where a number of residents from in and outside Bristol spoke to city officials about what happened at Bonnie Acres.
City Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said after that meeting, it was clear that there were many cat colonies throughout Bristol, and another meeting was necessary in order to brainstorm strategies, identify resources to help address the issue.
“Clearly, controlling the population through humane means is the goal,” said Zoppo, who led the community meeting. “Many of us were unaware…that this issue was actually as large as it was.”
During the meeting, acting mayor and City Councilor Eric Carlson said Mayor Ken Cockayne has considered the possibility of forming a task force to look at the issue of feral cats.
During the first part of the meeting, members of the public had an opportunity to take part in an open forum, providing a brief summary of what they thought the problems were and to prioritize them for a plan of action.
Lindsey Rivers, who volunteers for the dog pound in Bristol, said many people are not aware of the any low cost of neuter/spay programs. Rivers suggested not only the creation of a neuter/ spay law for the city, but also recommended the possibility of having a bus become available for that process, which would consist of volunteers.
“I believe that we need to [make] a neuter and spay law where if you get an animal, it has to be neutered and spayed,” said Rivers. “That will be a huge problem right there solved.”
Rivers said every time a dog is adopted from the pound, there is a five to six-page list of all of the vets in the state who will follow by the guidelines included in the cheap neuter/spay process.
“In every town, there are at least two vets,” said Rivers.
Bristol resident William Fuller, who has lived in the city for 35 years, said there does not seem to be a feral cat issue where he resides.
Fuller said he does not have a problem with people wanting to take care of animals, as long as it is not at the expense of taxpayers.
“If people want to spend their money on food, sheltering, and neutering, that’s great, [but] I don’t want my taxes paying to take care of wild animals,” said Fuller. “I’m against anything that costs the city money.”
Zoppo replied it is not likely the city will have to spend any of its resources.
“At this point, I’m not sure if we need to start spending city resources,” said Zoppo. “We’ll see where this conversation takes us, but I think there’s a lot of power in volunteers.”
Legacy of Love Animal Rescue, a family-run animal rescue group, recently set up a donation bin at Pet Supplies Plus on Farmington Avenue to help the feral cats at Bonnie Acres. Supplies needed include cat litter, metal food bowls and any size pet beds among others. The group also has teamed up with a local Trap-Neuter-Return trapper on rescue efforts with the Bristol Housing Authority.
Meanwhile, local resident Jeff O’Donnell, who has performed TNRin Bristol for 12 years, said creating an ordinance would help save taxpayers’ dollars because more cats will be fixed as a result, and animal control officers will receive less phone calls.
“It’s not going to cost taxpayers a dime,” said O’Donnell, adding that the chance of cats having rabies is rare.
O’Donnell further stated how he knew of a woman years ago who allowed her cat to have 18 litters.
“If a cat has too many liters, it takes a toll on its life,” said O’Donnell. “I could not get her to get the cat fixed.”
City Councilor Mary Fortier said the goal of an ordinance is to help solve a problem when an issue arises.
“It’s a way of dealing with a problem when we have a problem,” said Fortier.
“Many of the issues…are complaint driven,” added Zoppo.
Annie Hornish, Connecticut Senior State Director of The Humane Society, said sometimes there can be “unintended consequences” of making a mandatory ordinance. Hornish said an ordinance could potentially allow residents to avoid caring for a feral cat colony, resulting in the opposite effect.
“We feel [TNR] is the more appropriate response,” said Hornish.
TNR serves as a non-lethal strategy to reduce the number of community cats and to improve the health and safety of the cats, according to the Humane Society’s guide for managing community cats. Through this process, the cats are spayed or neutered so they can no longer reproduce. They are vaccinated against rabies, marked to identify them as sterilized and then returned to their home territory.
Plainville resident Gayle Black, a local volunteer, said education plays a major role in solving the issue of feral cats in Bristol. Black said she has seen a lot of people abandon the kittens after a year or two goes by, and those kittens fall into the hands of those who cannot afford to spay/neuter them.
“We trapped a cat about two months ago in a parking garage where I work in Hartford, and we trapped it in 30 seconds,” said Black.
During the meeting, O’Donnell also pointed out the difference between a feral cat and a “stray” cat. He said “feral” cats are born outside and have grown up outside like a wild animal.
“A stray cat you see is not necessarily a feral cat—a stray cat can be someone’s pet…and can be outside for years and then brought inside,” said O’Donnell, adding once a cat is completely feral, it is not safe to keep it inside. “But if a cat grows up outside…then it’s probably feral.”
Rivers recalled how after receiving a feral cat at five weeks old, it eventually turned into a normal domestic cat years later.
“I had him fixed, neutered—he wasn’t the friendliest for the first six months, but he is a great cat now,” said Rivers. “He lives a normal life, he’s inside.”
After the open forum, members of the public broke out into several subgroups, including those interested in creating an ordinance and discussing TNR programs, as well as listing resources and websites for potential grants. There also is a Facebook page called “Bristol Feral Friends” where the public can find a variety of information.
O’Donnell, who encouraged the city to adopt an ordinance, said the ordinance would target people in the community who continue to feed feral cats and refuse to accept any TNR services. He added that anyone who is low income could have access to state vouchers in order to pay for TNR.
During the break-out session, O’Donnell noted the advantages of implementing an ordinance in Bristol and used the town of Windham’s ordinance as a prime example. “This will result in a whole let less feral cats,” said O’Donnell, adding that having an ordinance can improve the quality of life. “It’s not going to be designed to be used as punishment—it’s only going to be designed to encourage people to get the cats fixed.”
Zoppo said Bristol’s Ordinance Committee will examine Windham’s ordinance on feral cats. Once the language of the ordinance is examined and modified to fit Bristol, a public hearing will take place. No ordinances in Bristol are adopted before receiving public input. After the hearing, the ordinance will ultimately appear before the Council, which can choose to adopt, reject or send back to be refined.
The next Ordinance Committee meeting will take place Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m.
“This is something that could be done short-term, six weeks, long-term, 12 weeks, anywhere in that range depending on how aggressive we are in how the language needs to be manipulated,” said Zoppo.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO