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Batavia City Council wrestles with problem of feral cats

BATAVIA – A committee investigating ways to reduce the feral cat population in Batavia is recommending the creation of a team of volunteers to implement a “trap, neuter, vaccinate and release” approach and work with nonprofit groups to secure grants to cover costs of housing cats that could be adopted.

Speaking at Monday night’s City Council meeting, Assistant City Manager Gretchen L. DiFante, facilitator of the five-person committee, said there are seven “active and growing colonies” of feral or community cats in the city that, if left unmanaged, will continue to grow.

She said there would be a lot more cats roaming the city if not for the efforts of a Genesee County volunteer organization known as Spay Our Strays, which was founded in 2008 by Dr. Carolyn Caccamise, a veterinarian, and is currently led by Kathy Schwenk.

Both Caccamise and Schwenk are on the committee that reported to City Council.

Other members are Sarah Balduf, Genesee County Department of Public Health sanitarian; Ann Marie Brade, Genesee County animal control officer, and Patricia Famiglietti, animal health inspector for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Before the committee’s report was presented, Gerald R. Rising, professor emeritus from the University at Buffalo, said feral cats are the only source of toxoplasmosis, which infects more than a million people each year in the U.S., and results in more than 300 deaths annually.

“We have to be on the defensive against these animals,” he said. “We need to rid our environment of alien feral cats. And TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate, release) doesn’t cut it … Cats should be trapped and, failing adoption, should be either confined or euthanized.”

The committee, however, during an hourlong presentation that also touched upon the possibilities of licensing and local ordinances, rejected that strategy.

“We’re not recommending that something more aggressive be done right now because we don’t see that large of an issue,” said DiFante, adding that the committee would like to approach county leaders with the same proposal.

She said the State Senate is proposing a bill to expand TNVR funding, while Schwenk noted that most municipalities in Erie County, including the Buffalo Common Council, have implemented the TNVR approach.

Schwenk said it costs $35 to $40 for each cat that goes through the TNVR program.

The Council agreed to consider the recommendations, minus any provision that would involve city funding, at its business meeting on Oct. 13.

In other action, the Council asked city administration to explore grants to assist in the construction of a new police headquarters, based on the premise that the board will follow the lead of a task force that recommended a parcel of land on Swan Street on the city’s south side.

“The task force did its work, now what are we going to do about it?” asked Kathleen Briggs, speaking of a Council-appointed group that explored costs and looked at various sites.

Council members asked DiFante to research what other communities paid for similar facilities, and to report back to them in time for further action on Oct. 13.