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Lackawanna City Council to Animal Welfare Advocates: Talk All You Want


Following two months of court appearances, lobbying efforts, and delivery of numerous documents on behalf of Lackawanna’s community cats, plus two formally filed attempts to have a sensible ordinance considered by the City Council, councilmembers have once again ignored animal welfare advocates seeking reform of the City’s cruel and misguided cat ordinances. Oh sure, Edie Offhaus, Cofounder/President of Lackawanna based Operation Pets was allowed to speak at the February 2 meeting, but don’t expect any action on requested changes in the local laws. Change is not on the agenda. Seems the Council was too busy for anything other than the primary business item, “A resolution rescheduling meeting dates of the City Council meetings for 2015.”

Lackawanna has some of the worst cat ordinances in Western New York. They feature silly provisions, like prohibition of owners from permitting their cat to “Howl so as to disturb or annoy any person or persons.” Quiet down, Fluffy, you might annoy the Animal Control Officer. Other provisions require cats to be confined to their owners’ premises and abstain from pooping anywhere off their home turf. I wonder if the Lackawanna Council has ever considered prohibiting birds from flying?

Since men lived in caves, we have shared our habitat with community cats. In modern times, the term has come to mean free roaming unowned cats, whether feral or friendly. Every human habitation in the world is accompanied by community cats and attempts to eliminate these populations have almost always proven futile, even in isolated habitats like offshore islands. Since the Civil War, animal control officials have practiced the now discredited catch and kill method of community cat control. This accomplishes nothing more than the waste of public resources and the perpetuation of an endless cycle of needless slaughter. Catch and kill fails because it is impractical to eliminate every animal and physical barriers to cat migration are few and far between. Cat populations are limited by habitat and food supply. Eliminating a portion of the cat population creates a vacuum which is soon filled by cats from the outside and increased reproduction by residual cats. Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR) is the only humane method which has been demonstrated to control and reduce community cat populations. TNVR involves humanely trapping, vaccinating and sterilizing community cats and returning them to their original location. Once returned, cats are regularly fed in a controlled manner, and proper practice may also involve provision of temporary housing and even veterinary services, when possible. Under the current Lackawanna ordinances, TNVR is clearly illegal and practitioners are being harassed and repeatedly prosecuted for feeding community cats.

TNVR is now endorsed by every major humane organization in the US, Canada and Great Britain, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), the SPCA Serving Erie County, and the Erie County Legislature which has instructed the Health Department to modify the County Sanitary Code to make it compatible with the practice of TNVR. The New York State Association of County Health Officers endorsed TNVR last year in an effort to obtain state funding for the practice. The Cities of Buffalo, North Tonawanda and Tonawanda, as well as the Town of Amherst and the Village of Williamsville have passed TNVR friendly ordinances. While the fruitless Lackawanna Council meeting took place, the Town of Cheektowaga adopted a TNVR friendly policy. Last week, the Niagara County Board of Health unanimously endorsed TNVR, as a preliminary step to anticipated endorsement by the Niagara County Legislature. Several other municipalities are now considering TNVR friendly ordinances or policies.

The City of Buffalo has allocated $50,000 to support a volunteer based TNVR project in the current fiscal year. In 2014, North Tonawanda had laws as bad as Lackawanna. When confronted by a cat overpopulation problem on Tonawanda Island, NT city officials wisely listened to animal advocates and changed their ordinances to allow TNVR. Volunteers then conducted an extremely successful large scale TNVR project involving more than 120 cats, all at no cost to the taxpayers.

To date, members of the Lackawanna Council have been unwilling to even discuss TNVR with those seeking its legalization. Even though hometown Operation Pets has examined, sterilized and vaccinated more than 300 free roaming Lackawanna cats since 2008, and TNVR has been ongoing in Lackawanna for years on a substantial scale, the Council doesn’t want to consider changing city laws. The community cats which TNVR caregivers seek to help are abandoned or the offspring of abandoned cats. These cats are not terrorists and the people who help them are not enemies of the state. In fact, they are good and decent people who are expending their own time and money trying to do the right thing for helpless animals. The method they use (TNVR) is now the internationally and locally accepted best practice for dealing with free roaming cats. It is a crime in New York to dump an animal. People who dump are a mix of evil and uncaring, or unfortunate souls who have no other choice. Some community cats were somehow lost by their owners. But no one is prosecuting the dumpers who caused this problem. Instead, Lackawanna has chosen to target and penalize those who seek to humanely solve an existing problem they had no part in creating, at no cost to the community. In addition, the feeding ban currently in place is unenforceable as it violates New York statutes which make withholding sustenance from an animal a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail. Furthermore, as the cat ordinances are selectively enforced on a complaint made basis, they violate the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

Council President Pirowski showed up late to the February 2 meeting, dressed in an open collar golf shirt. Chewing gum all the while, he started the dialog by calling on a misinformed resident, who is harassing his daughter-in-law for feeding her community cats. This gentleman feels that taking care of these animals is an assault to the personal health and welfare of military veterans who reside in Lackawanna. (You can’t make this stuff up.) While Pirowski claims he is “fine” with citizen volunteers expending their own time, money and compassion on TNVR for free roaming cats, he doesn’t want these cats to be fed, allowed to free roam, or engaging in excretory functions. Sound like used car dealer double talk to you? Pirowski also dismissed the suggestion that Lackawanna form a task force to study the problem as Buffalo did in 2013, saying “We already have too many committees.” In one jaw dropping exchange, Pirowski told Linda Robinson, Executive Director of Lackawanna business Operation Pets, “You aren’t a citizen.” Councilmember Jerge admitted he would violate the city ordinance to feed a starving kitten which showed up at his door. What human being wouldn’t?

Lackawanna’s cat ordinances are cruel, illegal, only enforced in a selective manner, out of touch with reality, and outmoded. When it comes to animal welfare, Lackawanna is out of step with Western New York and the civilized world. Don’t citizens of Lackawanna deserve a roll call vote to see where their elected leaders stand?

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