Discussion on feral cats dominates Brownwood City Council meeting

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
A feral cat is pictured at Riverside Park, where a colony of 20 to 25 cats are living and are fed by volunteers.
Riverside Park visitors are asked not to feed the cats, as volunteers feed the animals on a schedule.

A discussion on dealing with Brownwood’s feral cat population — particularly the colony of 20 to 25 at Riverside Park — dominated the Brownwood City Council meeting Tuesday morning and included comments from numerous audience members.

“It came to our attention several months ago that we had people building structures inside our city parks for the cats, along with feeding the cats on a regular basis,” Mayor Stephen Haynes said in opening the discussion. Council members took no action following the two-hour discussion.

The city is getting “tons of complaints” about feral cats in Riverside and other parks, with issues including cat waste being deposited around the playground equipment, Haynes said.

TRN Brownwood

The city has asked Tami Rodgers of TNR Brownwood (Trap, Neuter and Return) to “help us remove the cats from the public parks, and we believe that means remove the (shelters) and stop feeding the cats,” Haynes said. “No one has said or mandated that the cats be trapped or euthanized.”

Haynes said another issue is what to do about feral cats living in neighborhoods. "We’re taking them to the animal shelter under the TNR program," Haynes said.  "They’re being trapped, neutered and released back into the very neighborhood where the complaint originated." 

Haynes said he thinks the council is willing to "put some money" into TNR, but the council needs proposals.

Haynes asked how that money would be used. "Is it going to go to local vets to neuter cats, are we going to do a monthly clinic, are we going to create a facility at the shelter to do surgeries, are we going to hire a veterinarian?" Haynes asked.

"I don’t know. So far we have not received a detailed proposal regarding how the money could be used to complement the TNR program. I think the council is certainly willing to help assist with controlling the (cat) population via spay and neutering and doing what we can to encourage that.”

Working on a proposal

Rodgers said she’s been working on a proposal which she thinks might be ready for presentation at the next council meeting.

Rodgers also said talk has been circulating that feral cats will end up being euthanized at the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center. 

“I’ve been trying to address it as I see it on Facebook or wherever,” Rodgers said. “The problem is that it does indirectly, finally, come around to (euthanasia).”

“If we can’t find a place to put the cats, and animal control ends up coming in and picking them up, taking them to the shelter, and the shelter is not able to sterilize and return, then they eventually will have euthanize for space. I keep seeing (comments) that ‘the city wants to catch all the cats and kill them.’ Whenever I see that I try to go in and say that’s not entirely true. I’m not sure how many people are hearing me but I’m trying to do that.”

Petition

Rodgers presented a petition pertaining to the Riverside Park cats with 1,278 signatures, including 543 from Brownwood residents.

As the result of the petition, Rodgers said, TNR seeks permission to continue to feed and maintain the cat colony according to the following:

•  The cats currently at the park will be cataloged.

• Vaccination records will be readily available.

• Any new cats to the colony will be immediately trapped, vaccinated and returned to the park as long as the numbers are acceptable.

• The colony size will be maintained to at or less than 25 cats.

• Friendly cats will be immediately put up for adoption through either the shelter or TNR Brownwood’s Facebook page.

• Feral cats will be made available as working cats to anybody who needs pest control.

• TNR will continue to offer barn cats even if the colony size is acceptable.

• TNR asks that complaints about the cats to be passed on to TNR, which would work to resolve them.

• If one cat is singled out as a nuisance that can’t be resolved, the cat will be removed from the colony.

• TNR asks that this plan of action be extended to the other city parks.

‘Cat sanctuaries’

“What Tami just described is effectively using Riverside Park and all the city parks as cat sanctuaries,” Haynes said. “I have difficulty with that. That’s not the purpose of the park, to be a sanctuary for animals.”

“If there are people that want a cat sanctuary, I have no problem with that. It just shouldn’t be on public land. Is there no one within the organization that has a ranch or farm, a place where the cats can be taken?”

Rodgers said most of those locations would be in rural areas where it would be inconvenient for volunteers to take food.

‘Service to the community’

Rodgers said she sees maintaining the Riverside Park colony as a service to the community. There will always be cats there because the park is a “dumping ground” for people who no longer want their cats, Rodgers said.

TRN ensures the cats are healthy, vaccinated and spayed or neutered, Rodgers said. “There haven’t been any kittens born in that park in over a year,” she said. “There was a litter of kittens last weekend because somebody dumped them."

“I think that’s our fundamental difference. You see it as a problem. We see it as a way of giving back to the city.”

Haynes replied, “Prove me wrong. Stop feeding the cats, stop sheltering the cats, and let’s see where we’re at in a year.”

Some of Haynes’ remarks prompted retorts from audience members who disagreed with the mayor. One woman asked if what Haynes was proposing was “animal abuse.” A man cursed before walking out of the council chambers.

Haynes said numerous online articles indicate it is not a good idea to feed feral cats. Rodgers replied that other research indicates a vacuum effect occurs when cats are removed.

"It’s across nature," Rodgers said. "When you eliminate the animals that are in that area, the surrounding ones are going to move in.”

'Have a big heart'

Business owner Steve Harris urged the mayor and council to “find a way where TNR colony cats can co-exist with the population of Brownwood. It’s done across the country."

“It’s very emotional. It’s very heartbreaking. The cats are not the problem. This is an adult problem.”

Harris said if feral cats are rounded up and taken to “an already overwhelmed pet shelter, the reality is, euthanasia is most likely going to be the end result for a perfectly healthy cat.”

Harris urged the community to “come up with a clear way and have a big heart for the animals that did not create this. We’re a city and a county that has a horrible record on animal abuse. I hope that as we move forward in this conversation that we can think deep, because this is a deep issue.” 

‘What do you expect will happen?’

Tinya Thomas, former rescue coordinator at the animal center, said, “We’re not killing them now, but if we have an influx of feral cats and we don’t have a place for them to go, and rescues will not take them ... 

“What do you expect will happen to the cats if they are removed and brought to the shelter? I know you want to say that we’re not advocating euthanasia. But if you have a shelter-full of feral cats, what is your expectation of what the shelter is going to do?”

Avoid a ‘Bandaid approach’

Charity McCluskey suggested pillars for resolving the issue including making sure pet owners understand the importance of spay and neuter. 

She also said the lack of a low-cost spay and neuter program is an issue.

“To me it’s not about the Riverside Park cats, but how can we support those who are doing something for the Riverside Park cat issue, and furthermore, what can we do for the city?" McCluskey said. "If all you’re looking for is proposals, I’m sure we can come up with some proposals to do something. I’m asking that we don’t just take a Bandaid approach.” 

Concluding comments

Mayor Pro Tem Draco Miller suggested having residents vote on the feral cat issue. No cat should be around playground equipment where children are playing, Miller said.

When a man in the audience said he’s never seen cat waste at parks, Miller replied, “I have.”

Council member Walker Willey said there needs to be a way to “document what kind of complaints we’re getting.”

Willey said the council is “open to funding some sort of cat solution.” Willey also said he is not opposed to a small cat colony in the park.

As the discussion wound down, Haynes said, “I know you guys think I hate cats, and I don’t. There has got to be some common ground somewhere. We’ve got to stop having the same conversation over and over again.”