Kenai passes watered down cat ordinance

Kenai municipal code — which previously stated that free-roaming animals in the city can be impounded by animal control officers — now has an addition to clarify that “animals” includes cats and dogs.

The addition passed Wednesday by the Kenai City Council was made as a substitute for a previous ordinance that would have required Kenai cats to be restrained either by leash, fence or building. The cat restraint ordinance was introduced by Kenai Mayor Pat Porter and council member Tim Navarre, and was unanimously postponed at its first public hearing on Sept.21.

Before being taken up again Wednesday, Navarre moved to replace the cat restraint ordinance with the substitute, which subsequently passed. Unlike the original, the passed ordinance doesn’t require cat restraint, but instead is only meant “to clarify that all domestic animals including cats and dogs may be impounded if found at large on public or private property,” according to the new ordinance.

Council member Bob Molloy voted against the ordinance, saying he “favored leaving impounding procedure the way it is.”

“I think what we have in place does address the issue that we have,” he said.

Kenai code makes vicious animals, dogs without license tags, and “an animal found at large” — defined elsewhere in code to mean an animal not under restraint — subject to impoundment. Wednesday’s ordinance adds to the “animals at large” item the phrase “including cats and dogs on public property or the property of another,” and changes the statement that these animals “shall to be subject to impoundment” to “may be subject to impoundment.”

Molloy said the shall-to-may change was also unnecessary because animal control officers already use discretion in deciding which animals to impound.

While the original restraint ordinance could have made the owner of a roaming cat subject to a fine of up to $500, the text of the substitute specifies that it “does not criminalize or make it a minor offense to allow cats to roam at large, but does clarify that the Animal Control Office may impound when necessary to address problems that arise.”

Kenai City Attorney Scott Bloom said owners of impounded cats can be charged an impound fee of $15.30 per day for a first impoundment escalating up to $40.86 for a third impoundment, and a boarding fee of $20.40.

Animal Control Officer Stacie Mallette said at Wednesday’s meeting that the shelter typically doesn’t charge owners of impounded animals for the first three days of an impoundment.

Asked by Porter whether the ordinance would give her department “a little bit more of what you may need to enforce the cats,” Mallette said it would give them “a little more leverage to help if need be.”

After its introduction last month, the original cat restraint ordinance drew opposing letters from the national advocacy groups Alley Cat Allies, Community Cats United and For All Animals, all of which supported an alternative policy of trapping, spaying or neutering, and releasing cats without owners.

Other national groups supported the restraint ordinance. Grant Sizemore, Invasive Species Program Director of the Washington, D.C-based conservation group American Bird Conservancy, wrote in a letter to council members that “by safely containing cats, this ordinance would help protect our native species.” Sizemore cited a study that claimed U.S cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals yearly, and stated that cats are a vector for the disease-causing feces-borne parasite toxoplasma gondii. Anchorage resident Al-Hajji Frederick Minshall also testified in support of cat restraint at Wednesday’s meeting, citing similar disease concerns.

In an interview after the meeting, Navarre said the original ordinance had been in part a response to complaints from residents of Woodland Subdivision, where Navarre said one household had kept around 17 cats which ran free outside and affected about six neighboring houses. Navarre said the cat owner had “understood some of the complaints of the neighborhood and was willing to work with animal control to work through the problem.” He said many cats from Woodland have been given to Animal Control or put up for adoption elsewhere.

“That’s how things are supposed to work,” Navarre said. “But at the time, there was confusion as to whether to impound them. So we just clarified code tonight to make sure everybody was on the same page and they (Animal Control) had flexibility to work with people.”

 

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

 

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