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City considers cat limit

Southfield chosen as pilot in county program to control feral feline population

By: Jennie Miller | Southfield Sun | Published January 18, 2011

The Southfield City Council is expected to set a cap on the number of cats a resident can own, but the details are still being hammered out.
 A limit of six cats was agreed upon at a meeting Jan. 10, though no action was taken. The issue is expected to come back to council in the near future.
 The matter came before council in 2010, possibly fueled by an incident in which a woman was found to be living with 30 cats — many of them gravely ill — along with their waste in an incredibly unsanitary environment in her Southfield home.
A number of cat-owning residents expressed disapproval with the idea of setting a limit, and accused council members of overreacting to an abnormal situation with the one hoarding homeowner.
But some sort of a limit was deemed necessary, and several council members initially thought to mirror the cap set for dogs at three; however, the matter was postponed pending further review.
“We were asked to do a little bit more research on the issue as opposed to just coming up with potentially an arbitrary number,” explained Sue Ward-Witkowski, Southfield’s deputy city attorney, adding that she sought expert opinion from a veterinary specialist.
The doctor’s professional recommendation was to set a limit somewhere in the area of three to five, given a number of contributing factors, said Ward-Witkowski, who then consulted with the city’s animal warden before reporting back to council.
“I think we need to have a number that is reasonable,” said City Councilman Ken Siver, “so that we have some standard of enforcement. There are people that don’t always think about their neighbors or appearances, and there could also be health issues. So I really think we need to have a number, and something greater than three.”
He suggested that the number not included kittens.
But the dialogue surrounding the cat limit shifted to a larger problem in the city — that of the uncontrollable number of feral cats, those that are born in and live in the wild.
“There are colonies of feral cats,” Siver said.
“I think we have a bigger problem than folks realize,” said City Council President Myron Frasier.
Each member of council had a story to tell of an experience with feral cats.
“There were six feral cats that came through my yard — you can’t get close to them,” Siver said.
“My neighbor had 15 feral cats in his backyard,” added City Councilman Sid Lantz. “(But) we’re talking about a problem that we can’t solve today.”
The city’s animal warden, Robert White, weighed in on the issue.
“The sheer numbers that I deal with as far as feral cats, it’s just so high that we just don’t have the resources,” White said. “If we were to trap all of those, we just don’t have anywhere to take them. Almost Home (Animal Haven, the city’s contracted shelter) has probably 120 cats. Last year alone — I keep track of numbers that I see — (there were) at least 470 stray cats that I personally found. Mainly, we’re talking about feral cats. Oakland County, the state — it doesn’t matter what state you live in, we are just having a serious cat problem.”
Southfield has been chosen to be the pilot community for an Oakland County program funded by a federal grant to trap, neuter and release feral cats, set to begin in early March.
“The program will start in Southfield, and we will be the model,” said City Attorney Jack Beras. “It’s a small dent in a huge problem.”
For the domesticated cat issue, city officials recommended that residents who temporarily foster a number of cats for local shelters that are overrun with animals look into getting a kennel license.
Cats must be licensed and confined to their premises, according to the city’s current ordinance. Violation is a civil infraction, which carries a potential fine.
If council approves setting a limit, cats that are already licensed in the city by the effective date of the ordinance would be grandfathered in.