Saturday, December 11, 1999

Cat lovers yowl
in protest over
feeding-ban proposal

By Treena Shapiro


Cat caretakers are up in arms over a possible fine for feeding wild and feral animals in public areas.

The state Health Department's Vector Control Division has proposed a rule change to ban feeding in public parks, beaches, and recreational areas in an effort to control rodent populations.

The ban also would include common areas, such as public and private driveways and sidewalks. Violations could result in fines from $25 to $100.

A public hearing on the proposed rule change is set for 2 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the state Capitol. "They probably wouldn't go this far, but even if your child throws a french fry on the ground and a bird picks it up, technically that's a violation," said veterinarian Sabina Wenner, board president of the Animal Care Foundation.

Wenner said caretakers and managers have helped control feral cat colonies using a trap-neuter-return policy, which allows the caretakers to keep the animals healthy and unable to breed.

The emphasis is on controlling the population.

"These are not our pets," Wenner said. "We don't think it's cute to see fuzzy little kittens running around in the park. There will always be a feral cat somewhere. There just doesn't need to be 20."

But so far, neutering efforts haven't resulted in a decreased cat population. The Health Department receives thousands of calls every year related to cats and rodents, whose increasing populations pose a public health hazard, said department spokesman Patrick Johnston.

"The cats carry fleas and the cats go to the toilet and both of those can carry disease," he said. "The food is also eaten by the rats and other wildlife. They carry disease so they are a health hazard as well."

According to Wenner, banning feeding could pose a greater health risk. The cats are healthy now, she said, but the new rules would change that. "If we can't feed them, we can't de-worm them because we can't get near them," she said.

In addition, if cats aren't fed, they'll start going through the trash again, Wenner said. "They're eating OK food now, but imagine what they're going to pick up if they're going through the trash. Salmonella diarrhea, I don't want that in my park. And I don't want dead (cat) bodies in my park."

Eve Holt, Hawaiian Humane Society spokesperson, said her organization is concerned for the welfare of the cats.

"I think the cats will starve if they are not fed," she said. "They are domesticated animals. They rely on humans for their well-being."

"We will work to ensure that cats will not starve on Oahu," she said.

Johnston said the Health Department is willing to work with the animal welfare organizations to come up with an appropriate way to manage the cat population.

A possible alternative is designating controlled feeding and litter box areas in the parks.

"I think that would be a compromise that would be better than nothing," Wenner said.

Don't feed the kitty

Under the proposed rule change, feeding would be banned at:

Bullet Parks
Bullet Park roadways
Bullet Playgrounds
Bullet Athletic fields
Bullet Beaches
Bullet Beach right-of-ways
Bullet Tennis courts
Bullet Golf courses
Bullet Swimming pools
Bullet Public and private driveways
Bullet Sidewalks
Bullet Other recreational areas and facilities under the control, maintenance, and management of any city or state department or agency
Bullet Land and facilities accessible to or shared by all the members of the community.

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