By Robert Stoneback
The Danville News
MAHONING TWP. — More than 30 people came out to the township supervisors meeting to debate a proposed ordinance to fine residents who feed cats outdoors.
The ordinance, set to be voted upon Monday, was advertised as fining residents between $100 and $1,000 plus court costs for the act of feeding any cat outdoors.
After receiving large amounts of feedback from residents both for and against the proposed ordinance, the supervisors unanimously voted to postpone the adoption of the measure to discuss alternatives.
During the public comment section, which lasted almost two hours, a member of the Mahoning Township police twice had to cut off heated discussions that were in danger of turning into arguments.
Residents at the meeting included several Geisinger physicians and members of local animal groups such as the SPCA and the regional no-kill shelter Animal Resource Center.
Among the concerns raised by the residents were how the township expected to enforce such a law, how yards and porches could be protected from the stray animals and if refusing to feed the stray animals outdoors was any different from killing them.
“Even if this passes, I would never, ever stop feeding a starving animal,” one woman said, echoing the sentiments of many others in the room. “Those animals were thrown out by someone.”
Supervisor chair Christine DeLong said that under the proposed ordinance residents could bring the cats indoors and feed them if they wanted.
Several residents spoke out in favor of a trap, neuter and release program that could be used to decrease the stray cat population without refusing food to the animals. A few residents said they had even paid out of their own pocket to spay or neuter strays near their properties.
Nicole Wilson, the county supervisor for humane law enforcement of the SPCA, said her group does not agree with the wording of the ordinance and that they advocated the trap, neuter and release method. Monitored colonies in other areas have shown a 10 percent reduction over a three-year period, she said. Jo Wright, of the group PA Pets, also spoke in favor of trap, neuter and release, citing its ability to help reduce cat colonies.
The supervisors, as well as some residents, pointed out that stray cats have been an ongoing problem in the borough for the past several years even with some residents spaying and neutering the animals.
Dean Von Blohn, the township zoning officer, said calls regarding stray cats had quadrupled in the four years he had been with the zoning office. “The most guilty person in this room lives on Kingsley Avenue,” he said, without using the person’s name or address. There are always plates of cat food out by that residence, and the property was so unsanitary it was hard for inspectors to approach it, Von Blohn said. “The stench was so bad I could not walk up to the building,” he said.
He also stated that there is an existing ordinance in the county which limits a property to five animals. Any more and it needs to be classified as a kennel, he said.
Township resident Bill Wilt said he was in favor of the ordinance as he regularly has to clean up after strays that enter his property. “If you ever come out in the summer time, your flowerbeds reek of cat urine,” he said. Wilt said he doesn’t want the cats killed, but he does want them away from his home on Oak Street.
Other residents also spoke in favor of the ordinance, stating similar problems to Wilt with cats entering their property. Supervisor Wayne Myers also expressed some reluctance over the trap, neuter and release program as the caught cats would still be roaming around for about 10 years before they died.
DiAnne Leonard, a township resident and physician at Geisinger Medical Center, said people were more likely to get a disease from their neighbor than from one of the township’s strays. They tend to be healthy and not at a high risk of spreading disease, she said. She also spoke in favor of the trap, neuter and release program, saying it has worked very well in other communities, including Philadelphia. She said not feeding cats would only encourage them towards troublesome behaviors such as digging through garbage.
Another audience member repeatedly compared the ordinance to “using an elephant to squish an ant,” because it won’t make the animals leave and won’t stop them from breeding.
Supervisors expect to vote on the ordinance at their Dec. 16 meeting.