Last week’s decision by the Copperas Cove City Council to rescind a controversial amendment to the city’s animal control ordinance was the right one, albeit for perhaps the wrong reason.
In a 5-1 vote Tuesday, the council reversed itself on its Sept. 3 passage of a statute that made it illegal to feed feral cats or release them within city limits, punishable by a fine of up to $200.
The council’s latest action came after a group opposing the ordinance presented a petition bearing 540 signatures, a total that would have required the council to put the issue before the voters in May.
Instead, the council chose to rescind the ordinance, but in doing so, the overriding consideration was not the public outcry by the petitioners, but rather the $10,000 cost of holding a special election on the issue.
If the council truly believed the feral cat ordinance was a good law, as one council member expressed, then letting the city’s voters weigh in on it would have been the best course of action. But if the cost of a special election was enough to dissuade some members from their original vote, then perhaps the law was flawed to begin with.
Over the past few years, Cove’s feral cat problem has been divisive and well-documented. A group of animal activists favors a program called trap, neuter and release, or TNR, to control the feral cat population. With the city lacking a codified policy on controlling the feral cat population, several individuals adopted feral cat colonies in an attempt to address the problem. One resident who operated a cat colony recently said he trapped and spayed about 70 cats since 2011.
But passage of the feral cat ordinance in early September technically put a stop to those activities.
In response to the council’s action, a five-member petition committee was organized quickly, with the goal of gathering at least 486 signatures — the number necessary to place the ordinance on a municipal ballot — within 45 days. By the Nov. 25 petition deadline, the group exceeded its goal by more than 50 signatures.
As a result, the council had to choose between calling an election on the issue or rescinding the ordinance — and with the exception of one councilman, they chose the latter.
Now the city is back to square one regarding the disposition of its burgeoning feral cat population.
Over the past two years, the city’s Animal Advisory Committee has been divided on how best to deal with feral cats. Several members favored regulating cat colonies so the city would have input into their management. Other committee members viewed maintaining cat colonies as a health risk.
Despite being asked by the council to draft a compromise ordinance a year ago, the committee failed to reach agreement.
With the feral cat amendment now off the books, animal activists are vowing to renew their push for a city TNR program, proposing an education campaign to enlighten the council and the city’s residents about the importance of TNR. The group also is advocating a citywide microchipping program for pets.
It’s in the city’s best interests if residents get involved in the decision-making process — on this issue, as well as many others.
Over the past decade, Cove residents have done just that. Since 2004, petition drives have resulted in a citywide vote on the sale of alcohol, a municipal election that affirmed a council-imposed no-smoking ordinance and a 2008 recall election that resulted in the removal of four council members.
Longtime community activist Diane Steele was involved in all three initiatives. She died in June 2010, leaving it up to a new generation of community advocates to take up her mantle. Apparently, some residents already have.
An informed, involved and engaged electorate is crucial to ensuring responsive elected representation — whether it be at City Hall or on Capitol Hill.
This small but vocal group of animal lovers is to be commended for showing how it’s done.