By CECiLiA CHAN
GSN Managing Editor
Gilbert currently has no intention of rescinding or amending a ban on feeding homeless cats on public property, but will soon post resources to help them on the town webpage.
“Our team is working on putting together information on TNR and feral cats on the website,” town spokeswoman Jennifer Harrison said. “We expect to have this misinformation available in the next month or so.”
Vice Mayor Eddie Cook said Gilbert would likely follow neighboring Mesa and Chandler and point people to the Animal Defense League of Arizona.
The animal protection organization is a leader in the state for spaying and neutering pets and outdoor cats.
It traps, fixes and returns about 15,000 cats a year in Maricopa County under a program known as Trap, Neuter and Return or TNR, which reduces cat population through sterilization.
Cook has been meeting with a few homeless cat advocates who are determined to find a compromise to the town’s law passed in May 2018. People can still feed cats on private property with the owner’s permission.
Although the law doesn’t prohibit TNR on town property, having food in a trap is considered feeding.
Once a cat is fixed, it’s returned to its colony, where volunteers known as caregivers feed them so they don’t roam into other neighborhoods allowing unfixed strays to fill the void.
Mesa resident and feral cat advocate Lucy Linder, who has been meeting since October with the town attorney and the parks and recreation direction, expressed frustration at the impasse.
“Nine months later it’s still the same problem,” said Linder in a meeting last week with Cook and fellow advocate Dianne Rogers. “I’d like to see something happen, change something so trapping is allowed, a half-way point to alleviate some of the negativity that comes with this ordinance.”
Cook said they were all on the same page when it comes to reducing the feral cat population.
Earlier this year, he pitched a pilot program to town administration where a discrete area on town property could be set aside to capture data on TNR.
But he garnered no support over concerns of liability by having the Defense League, which uses volunteers, oversee the program, according to Cook.
“I did all I could,” Cook said. “I’m only one of seven on the Council.”
Town officials were reluctant to address the situation because the bottom line is Gilbert doesn’t have a problem with feral cats, he said.
“They looked at the records and there’s not a significant number of complaints in Gilbert of any particular area that cats are causing a tremendous amount of nuisance,” Cook said. “They’re more concerned about nuisance than the inability to trap.”
Rogers asked if there was a problem that caused the town to adopt the ordinance.
Cook said just like people are prohibited from changing their vehicle’s motor oil on town property, the feeding ban is just another thing that got added to the list.
He added that people dumping piles of cat food on public property, which attracted other animals and insects prompted the ordinance.
“Because of the ordinance, people are intimated and hesitant to continue feeding,” said Linder, who was working with two apartment complexes in Gilbert on a TNR program.
She later said she knew of about 50 caregivers in Gilbert who are no longer feeding in fear of prosecution.
Gilbert Police have issued three citations and made one arrest relating to the ordinance.
“When they see people are being targeted or allegedly being targeted, that further prevents from feeding,” Linder said.
One of Cook’s suggestions was for Linder and Rogers to find a state legislator who was willing to sponsor a bill to address the issue for Arizona.
Linder and her group were not the only ones looking to find a resolution.
A group recently formed in Gilbert in support of feral cats and is holding its first meeting this month to discuss how to abolish or amend the town’s feeding ordinance.