Fur flies over Phoenix cat laws

PHOENIX — Residents on both sides of a cat trapping debate voiced concerns for more than 90 minutes Monday during a City Council meeting.

With two sides clearly defined — one group urging a ban on trapping pet cats while the other hoped for better enforcement of the prohibition on animals wandering at large — city officials conceded that ordinance modification is in order.

The valley's only town that prohibits outdoor cats has experienced a range of cat issues this year from reports of poisoned cats to residents upset with neighbors setting traps and surrendering pet cats to Jackson County Animal Care and Control.

Under city ordinance, owners of animals found wandering at large can face a fine of up to $500, though city officials could find no instances of the fine being enforced in recent years.

Betty Claflin, who said she moved to her home in 1947, voiced frustration with the potential fine and said pet cats are notoriously difficult to keep indoors.

"I have a cat now that has been living with me for 11 years, and he will certainly be hard to wrangle and keep inside," said the 85-year-old, noting that the cat walks her to and from the nearby post office.

"His yard is outside and inside the fence. I'm sorry but I can't pay a $500 fine so if he gets outside the fence I guess I can take my knitting to city jail."

Longtime resident and former council member Mike McKey said neighbors should be more patient and communicate with one another instead of forcing the city to micromanage the rights of residents.

McKey also urged the council not to ban traps altogether because of issues with raccoons in some neighborhoods.

"In the last year and a half, we've trapped over 30 raccoons and taken care of them," he said. "I've heard rumors that you're not supposed to do that, but I'm not going to pay $75 for a trapper to come in and deal with that. To me, that is more of a problem than some poor kitty cat."

As to the issue of cats roaming, McKey said, "I do have a garden and, like someone said, the ground is soft and they use it. I've lived here for 15 years so I guess I just have patience to grab a shovel and just pick it up and throw it in the trash," he said, nodding to Claflin.

"This town has been here over 100 years and we haven't worried too much about cats and all this. I agree with (Claflin), I would join her in jail and it would probably cost you and the county $5,000 for me to be in there."

Councilwoman Karen Jones voiced concerns about cats spreading disease and that the rights of property owners — of the non-cat-owning variety — were being violated.

Louis Jenighen, an organic farmer, said he had battled the cat issue for years.

"You can't have a cat make a toilet out of your backyard. For three years, I was taking a shovel and digging out of my newly planted garden. I'm an animal lover but you can't let them wander all over the place," he said, noting that cats contaminate garden soil with disease and cause other problems.

"I think $500 is way too much of a fine but a fine should be given to those who cannot take care of their animals properly."

Resident Lisa Gilley told audience members her own cat had been poisoned and suffered kidney failure.

While she said she would prefer trapping to poisoning, she urged the council to enforce humane treatment of any cats being trapped.

Resident Steven McCrystal, who said he had three cats who live indoors, urged the council to stick with its ban on outdoor cats for public health reasons and the safety of birds.

Council member Jeff Bell said ordinance modification would require further public opinion.

"I think every single person made good points and it's hard to legislate being good neighbors and working things out," he said. "I'm not sure anything this council does is going to solve these problems."

Citizens interested in being notified of the next meeting or providing opinions on the cat issue may contact City Manager Eli Naffah at eli@phoenixoregon.net or call 541-535-1955.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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