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Proposed law to control feral cats in Niagara Falls raises the hackles of animal activists

NIAGARA FALLS – Having no law at all would be better than the ordinance the City Council has proposed to address the problem of feral cats, according to those who deal with strays in the city.

But other residents complain that feeding feral cats is a nuisance to their property and worry that providing food for cats may lead to rat problems.

A resolution on how to handle cats in the city was quickly tabled at a recent meeting of the City Council, but members of the public expressed feelings on both sides of the issue.

Council Member Kristen Grandinetti proposed the resolution, which would add cats to the city’s “Animal, Fowl and Dogs” ordinance. Currently there are no restrictions on cats, other than limiting residents to no more than three cats or dogs in their house.

Grandinetti said her proposal was done with the best of intentions and she wanted to make sure both sides of the issue were addressed.

The proposed changes in the ordinance outline responsibilities of cat owners addressing nuisances and property damage caused by cats and also prohibits sheltering and feeding feral or stray cats. Cats would remain unlicensed under the proposal.

Owners who violate these rules can be fined and have their cats seized.

The new ordinance also proposes voluntary support of a trap, neuter, vaccinate and return program – TNVR. Persons who engage in TNVR must annually advise the office of the city clerk and provide their addresses and sites where they are trapping cats, and notify their neighbors.

Joe Grabka of Falls Street said Niagara Falls is the only area municipality that has not addressed cats. He called the feeding of stray cats a health issue.

He said he believes that leaving food out for animals was one of the issues that led to previous problems with rats and raccoons.

“It’s also a quality-of-life issue, but leaving the food out for these animals – it makes my yard a superhighway for cats going to my next-door neighbor’s house,” Grabka said. “I can’t let my nieces and nephews play outside because of all the cats.”

Amy Lewis, executive director of the Niagara County SPCA, said she is not in favor of the law, especially rules that called for the seizure of cats. She said the SPCA has no more room in their shelter for cats.

“Less than 2 percent of cats leave our shelter. That means that 98 percent of them are bound up in the system. We literally don’t have the space or the resources,” she said.

Lewis said after the meeting that prohibiting the feeding of feral cats and impounding cats is the opposite of what the SPCA tries to do with TNVR, which supports community caretakers.

“This ordinance would punish them,” she said.

She said even without support from the city, the SPCA already is practicing TNVR and called restrictions on feeding feral cats antiquated.

Lewis said she understands concerns of residents, but would rather there be no new rules than the ones currently being considered.

“The only thing that putting in a TNVR ordinance would do would be to say that the city endorses this, but there are already residents doing this and the SPCA is doing it,” she said.

Grandinetti said she proposed the new law because of concerns residents had brought to her, but said she is willing to further study the issue. She said the issue will not be on Monday’s agenda, but she and Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson have made plans to discuss the law with Lewis. No date to return the item to the agenda has been set.

She said she supports TNVR, but would like to see it done in an organized manner and on a much larger scale.

Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, D-Lewiston, said state money is available to assist the city in their TNVR efforts.

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said he applauded Grandinetti’s efforts on the issue, calling it a problem that “certainly needs to be addressed” again as soon as possible.

Lewis praised the city’s efforts to include TNVR in its ordinance and offered to work with the Council to put an effective ordinance in place.

“It’s all about education,” Lewis said.

“We could go around and educate citizens about properly feeding these animals. This ordinance can open communication.”

She said after the meeting that there are large cat colonies around the casino and 56th Street as well on Goat Island. She said methods of feeding as simple as raising the feeding platform would feed the cats while not drawing unwanted animals such as rats and raccoons.

She recommended residents who feed feral cats get more information on how to properly care for these cats at