Politics & Government

Plan to colonize Wichita’s feral cats not quite ready to hunt

A feral cat peeks out of the brush.
A feral cat peeks out of the brush. File photo

A Wichita board has rejected — for now — a proposed ordinance to allow residents to keep colonies of up to eight feral cats in their yards.

But the plan will come back after more fine-tuning in December or January.

The proposal before the Wichita Animal Control Advisory Board would allow “community cat caregivers” to register with the city to establish outdoor colonies of feral felines.

The idea is to try to reduce the stray cat population by trapping, neutering and releasing them to backyard cat colonies, where they could live out their lives but not produce more cats.

A motion to advance the measure to the City Council failed on a voice vote Wednesday evening after two hours of debate.

But the board did make some key decisions:

Each catkeeper would be limited to eight cats per property, including their feral colony and any other indoor or indoor-outdoor cats they own. That’s seen as a hedge against cat hoarding.

Existing cat colonies that are larger than eight animals would be grandfathered in until the excess cats die of natural causes, as long as the caregivers register the colony within six months of passage of the ordinance.

The ordinance won’t limit the number of colonies that could be established in a given area, but police animal-control officers would have discretion to step in if the concentration of cats gets too thick.

The Trap Neuter and Release, or TNR plan, is a popular idea with cat lovers. They say it helps reduce the feral feline population without resorting to catching and killing cats that are too wild to adopt out as house pets.

But bird watchers are afraid the cats – predatory by nature and with no sense of boundaries – will cut a swath through local wildlife.

The way it works: A volunteer colony caregiver would trap the unclaimed animals and take them in for spaying or neutering and a rabies vaccination.

The veterinarian would cut the tip off the cat’s ear to signify that it’s been fixed and is part of a colony, not just a random stray or abandoned cat.

That “eartipping” would signal to animal control officers that the cat is under someone’s supervision, so it wouldn’t be picked up and taken to the pound unless it’s causing a public nuisance.

The colony keepers wouldn’t actually own the cats, but would be responsible for providing the colony with adequate food and water, shelter and veterinary care.

Cat caregivers have been practicing TNR without city approval for years.

Leaders of the pro-TNR group Friends of Felines estimate that more than 5,000 cats have been TNR’ed in the past five years.

Estimates of the stray cat population in Wichita range as high as 100,000 animals, about one for every four people in the city.

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