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Cat committee reaches compromise, trustees next

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By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

By John Colson

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Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Carbondale’s cat controversy appears to be nearing resolution, after members of a committee appointed by the Board of Trustees agreed last week to a series of compromise recommendations to send to the BOT.

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The recommendations, according to committee member Mary Harris, call for refinements and revisions to the town’s existing “nuisance cat” ordinance, which has been on the books for decades but not generally known to town officials or citizens.

The trustees, as a group, may get their first, formal looks at the recommendations at the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 13, according to Town Clerk Cathy Derby.

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Harris, who first brought up the issue last July, had warned the trustees that she and her organization, the Roaring Fork chapter of the National Audubon Society, believed that cats who run wild have been killing too many birds, and in fact have been pushing some bird species toward extinction.

Her claims were disputed, however, by a local real estate broker, Cindy Sadlowski, who has been catching, spaying or neutering and then releasing “feral” cats in the Roaring Fork Valley for 15 years under the organizational name of Street Cat Coalition.

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Sadlowski maintained that what Harris claimed to be a growing problem actually was no problem at all, at least not locally.

Caught between the two factions, the trustees initially had town staff draw up an ordinance to regulate the local cat population. But after negative reactions from some trustees and some members of the public, the board in September put the proposed new ordinance on hold and appointed the committee to look into the question.

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Over the course of three meetings, the committee went from an atmosphere of hostility and confrontation to one of conciliation and compromise, centered around making changes to the town’s existing cat-related ordinance rather than trying to make new law.

And at the committee’s last meeting, on Sept. 29, Harris and a fellow committee member, veterinarian Julie Martin, informed the others that they had sat down a few days earlier to mull things over and, in a letter summarizing their work, declared, “We feel like we came up with a good solution.”

Harris, reached at home on Tuesday, said of the Sept. 29 meeting, “It was a real good session.”

As for the recommendation to the trustees, she said, “I feel really confident they’ll accept it.”

The recommendations are:

• to require rabies vaccines for all domestic cats in town;

• to “strongly encourage” cat owners to spay/neuter their cats, and to “encourage” the town to issue vouchers to help low-income residents meet the costs of the treatments;

• to “strongly encourage cat owners to collar and license or chip [have an identification chip inserted under the cat’s skin) so that any cat picked up can be returned to the owner;

• to raise the fines for violations from the current $10-$20, to issuance of a warning and a brochure about town cat policies on the first violation, and assess fines of $30 for a second violation and $50 for a third. Subsequent violations would bring escalating fines, although the committee balked at setting an upper limit on fines;

• before the new fines take effect, conduct “a lengthy grace period” to accommodate “a strong awareness program, coordinated by the town of Carbondale, Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE), Street Cats Coalition and Roaring Fork Audubon.

The summary of the recommendations also offers ideas for conducting the awareness campaign, starting with the proposal that it be conducted in both English and Spanish and that it encourage “responsible ownership by keeping your cat inside to protect our wildlife and protect your cat.”

Harris pledged that she and Roaring Fork Audubon will remain involved in the overall effort to get the word out regarding the changes to the town’s code regarding cats.

Published in The Sopris Sun on October 8, 2015.

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