SANDPOINT — Residents who feed and shelter stray cats should be prepared to take full responsibilities, Sandpoint council members voted Wednesday.
Council members examined the ongoing issue of roaming cats at Wednesday’s council meeting, ultimately deciding those who care for cats also have to ensure they’re not a nuisance to their neighbors.
The issue initially came up last year when resident Terry Lavallee contacted Councilwoman Carrie Logan about the issue of more than a dozen cats that roamed the neighborhood, habitually using his garden as a bathroom. Despite the disruptive nature of their presence, however, he said he had no real legal recourse to address the problem.
According to City Code, the only laws addressing roaming animals concerned dogs. Residents are limited in how many dogs they can own without acquiring special status as a kennel, which are illegal in residential zones. Owners must also prevent their dogs from invading neighboring yards or making a mess. In the revised ordinance, terms for the roaming ordinance are broadened to include animals of all kinds.
While the new ordinance definitions give aggrieved parties more tools to resolve issues, animal control is still a problematic point for local law enforcement, said Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon. Since the disbanding of the municipal enforcement officers last year in the wake of budget cuts, animal control has become a lower priority for the police department, he added.
In addition to defining responsibilities for animal sheltering, the ordinance also permits organizations to participate trap-neuter-release programs for feral cats — cats that are born in the wild to unneutered parents. Feral cats can cause problems in neighborhoods due to their hunting of small game, bathroom habits and proclivity for breeding. Trap-neuter-release programs help limit the problem by capturing the cats, sterilizing them to prevent any reproduction and allowing them to live out their natural lives in the wild.