Wichita board begins work on turning strays into ‘community cat colonies’

There’s a certain rakish romance to being a stray cat.

You go where you want, do what you want, hang out with your cat pals, make baby cats and live off whatever you can find or kill.

A Wichita board is seeking to enshrine that lifestyle — minus reproduction and rabies — in the Municipal Code.

But there is dissent from those who worry that the so-called “community cats” will be killing machines that will devastate birds and other local wildlife.

Wichita’s animal advisory board spent an hour and a half Wednesday evening pounding out proposed new regulations to encourage residents to trap, sterilize, vaccinate and release stray cats that they find on their property.

Such cats would then be considered “community cats,” free to live out their lives as part of “cat colonies” of stray and feral felines.

The community cats would be identified by “ear tipping,” having a notch cut in their ear, and would be exempt from capture and euthanasia at the city animal shelter unless they bite someone or otherwise cause a public nuisance.

Residents would be allowed to feed and provide water for the community cats, without having to worry about violating city regulations or animal-cruelty laws that that apply to household pets.

Most of Wednesday’s animal board meeting consisted of the members going line-by-line through a proposed ordinance proposed by a subcommittee with input from a group called “Friends of Felines,” which has been supporting cat colonies on the sly and risking violation of the current city ordinance.

The board was advised by lawyer Katie Barnett, representing the Best Friends Animal Society. She said she’s helped to get trap, neuter and release ordinances on the books in Kansas City, Kan., Lawrence, Shawnee and other communities.

But controversy flared late in the meeting when the board got to public comments and Michael Nolan of Wichita accused all involved of being too pro-cat and too anti-wildlife.

“So you’re going to kill all the wildlife in Sedgwick County!” he thundered at the board. “I’m outraged we’re to the point where we’re discussing how we’re going to do TNR (trap, neuter and release). . . . There’s no public record anywhere showing why anyone thought this was a good idea.”

He said he found it ridiculous that the city board wants to make special accommodation for “unwanted cats from irresponsible cat owners.”

“Feral cats need to be removed from the environment, removed, not coddled, not put up in colonies,” Nolan said. “The amphibians, the snakes, the birds, everything they can get they will kill. It’s what they do.”

Nolan said he has two shelter-rescue cats of his own and loves cats, but he also loves nature.

He asked if the proposed ordinance had been reviewed by any neutral biologists. “Or are we just thinking, oh, we’re going to be nice to the poor little cats and screw every other animal in the area because we love cats.”

That drew an immediate and sharp reaction from Judy Handley, a leader of the Friends of Felines and former member of the city board.

She said trap, neuter and release still reduces the stray population, but in a more humane fashion than capturing the cats and killing those that can’t be adopted out to owners.

“Trap and euthanasia has not worked because you get people who are cat lovers hiding their cats so you don’t find them,” she said.

“Suddenly, you just happen to see a cat in your backyard and then it’s gone. So you forget about it. You don’t know that that cat is out there making 18 babies a year. You don’t know that until suddenly those 18 babies are living in your yard. It’s crazy.”

She also disputed that the community cat ordinance was being drafted and pushed through without adequate study.

“We have studied and studied and studied it for three years,” she said. “Nothing else works.”

Any ordinance the board crafts would have to be approved by the City Council before it could take effect.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527; @DionKansas