What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Meow…or something like that.
Animal rights activists are clawing away at Anaheim city officials, saying a new law tells residents to let stray cats starve. The issue heated up when neighbors called weeks ago to complain about cats being fed on private property. The city says residents tired of finding cat food under their cars, adding that the cat caretaker in question was warned about trespassing, not violating code.
The ordinance introduced in November can certainly be read as a knock to friends of feral felines:
It shall be unlawful for any person to intentionally provide food, water, or other forms of sustenance to a feral cat of feral cat colony within the boundaries of the City. It is not a violation of this section for any person to feed or shelter feral cats while working with an animal control agency under contract with the City of Anaheim.
"Feeding without spaying or neutering is irresponsible," says Anaheim Fix Project Director Eve Hart. "It's basically a project I started a just few months ago to tackle the problem of too many feral cats in Anaheim." Volunteers with Anaheim Fix vaccinate and feed strays, but with the latter part running afoul with the city's new ordinance, Hart got involved in the cat fight. "I got a call about a woman who was getting harassing phone calls and letters from Code Enforcement telling her to stop feeding cats."
A wave of protest calls and emails came next, but the city insists its municipal code is being taken out of context. The section is under "nuisance" chapter, but Anaheim isn't saying cats themselves are that, only the health hazards like typhus that can arise from feral colonies. "There were some misunderstandings," says Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz. "We are reviewing the code and will possibly revise it for greater clarification."
The cat rights crew isn't letting up until then. "Public outcry is making an impression," Hart says, citing a city press release stating that feeding strays isn't illegal. Other issues remain unresolved "When we've tried to get straight answers from the city, we've been having a hard time," she adds. She wants to know if the code will be put on hold and ultimately repealed. A meeting is slated to happen soon. "We want to form a positive partnership with the city."
Anaheim assures that its City of Kindness brand extends to feral felines. "We are cat friendly," Ruiz says. They partner with the County's TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) program and have no plans to make Disneyland stop using its famed feral cats to keep Mickey Mouse's house rodent-free. But is Anaheim ordering its residents to starve strays? "Absolutely not!" Ruiz says.
"The city is lumping in feral cats with wild animals," Hart counters. "They can't survive on their own and if we just stop feeding them, they'll die."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2