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Feral Cat Laws Draw Crowd at White Oak Council

Horizon Drive resident’s citation draws comments from neighbors, activists

By Christy Walters
The Tube City Almanac
February 18, 2020
Posted in: White Oak News

Members of various animal rescue groups from throughout the region told White Oak officials on Monday that the borough needs to revisit its ordinances governing the care and feeding of feral cats.

The discussion at Monday’s council meeting was triggered after Pittsburgh’s WPXI-TV (11) reported that a Horizon Drive resident was cited because the stray cats she has been feeding have allegedly been defecating on a neighbor’s lawn.

“We would like to have an open discussion (with council) about revising the ordinance so that it is animal-friendly, so that we don’t have a situation where someone gets a citation in the mail,” said Donna Priselac of East McKeesport, a volunteer with the Homeless Cat Management Team in Tarentum. “It’s a fear tactic.”

According to the TV report, JoMarie Piccini received a notice of violation on Feb. 11. Piccini told the station she had retained a lawyer but she did not speak at Monday’s council meeting.

No citations have been filed against Piccini at Magisterial District Judge Thomas Miller’s office, according to court records.

Mayor Ina Jean Marton, who is a founder of White Oak’s no-kill animal shelter, said that the notice of violation was not meant to intimidate Piccini, but rather invite her to call the borough and discuss the issue.

“My biggest problem is that when you feed wild animals, you’re also feeding deer, raccoons and skunks,” Marton said. “We caught a rabid raccoon in one of the neighborhoods the other day. And we could get a lot of coyotes.

“The feral cats are wild and they’ve been taking care of themselves for thousands and thousands and thousands of years,” she said. “But if you bring coyotes in here they’re going to wipe everything out. To do everything else would be wonderful, but we’ve got to stop feeding the wild animals.”

Whatever the borough’s intentions, Priselac and representatives of other cat and animal rescue groups said the warning notice was unfair. Priselac presented council with a Change.org petition bearing more than 18,000 signatures.

“We want good things for the community, the cats of the community and the people of the community,” said Becky Morrow, a veterinarian and teaching professor at Duquesne University who serves as medical director of Frankie’s Friends, a cat-rescue charity in New Kensington.

Morrow advocated for a “trap, neuter, return,” or TNR program, in which feral cats are humanely trapped by caregivers, are spayed or neutered at that caregiver’s cost, and then returned to their natural habitats.

Risé Chontos from In Care of Cats in Elizabeth also praised the TNR program provided by these organizations, but suggested adding an “M” for “monitor” to the acronym.

“Monitored colonies that are legally bound with contracts for all the parties involved would solve some of these problems,” Chontos said.

She also called on humans to be more accountable in their pet ownership.

“We’ve been exterminating [cats] for decades,” Chontos said. “Billions and billions of healthy cats and kittens, for what? Where’s the improvement? You have to shut off the source, which is irresponsible ownership and spay and neuter laws.”

Carol Whaley with Animal Friends of Pittsburgh, who was invited to the meeting by Marton, said that spay/neuter laws aren’t the answer.

“Making a law to mandate spay/neuter is never really the answer,” Whaley said. “You can look toward the city of Pittsburgh for some models of humane treatment of community cats. They use some of their tax dollars to subsidize spay/neuter for cats and dogs in the community.”

Priselac told council that the organizations’ goals were not to chastize or “bash” the borough but rather to educate its leaders on the issue. However, she warned that rapid action should be taken to solve the problem.

“If you think you have a problem now, a year from now it’s going to be twice as bad and we’re going to sit here and say ‘we told you so,’” she said. “If you’re going to cite these caretakers who take money out of their own pockets and care for these animals and do the right things by getting them vaccinated and getting them fixed, no rescue is going to come in and help you.”

Marton acknowledged Priselac’s concerns and noted that White Oak Animal Safe Haven offers spay/neuter services for $15 per cat as well as rental of humane traps.

“You know I love cats as much as you do,” Marton said. “I want to help and work with this woman and the cats. I’ve been trying to do what you folks are doing, and I like the idea of a management program. I know there’s a problem. We don’t want to hurt any of our cats.”

The mayor said she hoped that the organizations and council can work together and become educated on the subject. Council will be looking at similar ordinances — some from as far away as Illinois — in the hopes of coming up with a plan to move forward, Marton said.

Christy Walters is a freelance writer from White Oak. She may be reached at cmw119@pitt.edu.

Originally published February 18, 2020.

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