December 17, 2014

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Less than 10 attend inaugural citizens advisory committee on feral cat problem

NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The inaugural meeting of a citizens advisory committee being formed to try and reduce numbers of wild and stray cats in the community was a far cry from the summer’s emotionally charged City Council meetings during which dozens of people demanded the firing of a humane officer who shot and killed a number of feral kittens.

Approximately a half-dozen people turned out Tuesday night for the 75-minute session at the North Ridgeville Branch Library and attended by city officials as well as officials of animal rescue groups.

Meeting attendees agreed with Greg Willey, director of the Friendship Animal Protective League, that the worst course of action would be to take no steps to try and resolve the cat issue.

“We have to ask the community to get involved,” Willey said.

While euthanasia is used by the APL in some cases of aggressive cats or other animals, trap-neuter-release efforts are preferred, despite the fact such efforts require “a lot of manpower, time and resources,” Willey said.

The committee is being formed in response to the June 10 shooting of five kittens by Humane Officer Barry Accorti after a resident called for help in ridding her property of the animals.

The incident led to a huge backlash that saw protests outside City Council meetings, threats of legal action by a humane group, as well as demands by thousands of online petition signers for the firing of Accorti, who was not dismissed.

The furor led to Mayor David Gillock announcing the city would no longer send police or humane officers to handle feral cat calls except in extreme cases but would supply traps to residents requesting them.

Gillock and Police Chief Michael Freeman attended the meeting, with Freeman stressing his preference for a broad approach that doesn’t lock the city into one or two options.

“We have to gauge the police approach to this on a case-by-case basis,” Freeman said. “We have to protect residents’ property rights.”

A significant drop in cat populations could be made in three to five years, according to Willey.

“In three years’ time you could see the cat population start to dwindle,” he said.

Stan and Rhonda Boozer, who are caring for five cats taken in from a vacant adjoining property, said they want to see the city’s cat population contained while avoiding widespread euthanasia.

The couple paid $800 to $900 to have a number of cats from the neighboring garage neutered only to see them later euthanized.

One means of handling the city’s cat problem could include taking animals to inexpensive organizations that charge small sums to neuter and release trapped cats, according to Willey.

“North Ridgeville has a very solvable problem,” Willey said, especially when compared to Lorain, where thousands of cats are on the loose.

“Probably 20 of 5,000 feral cat calls we got during the year were from North Ridgeville,” Willey said.

Cats often leave on their own  if people stop putting out food for them, Willey said.

“This can be a very divisive issue, but people often create the problems, and we have to be the ones to solve them,” Willey said.

Committee chairman William Snyder said the group will try and hold monthly meetings to keep efforts and interest going.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.