Thursday, September 14, 2006

Editorial: Absurd law plagues cat lover

Editorial: Absurd law plagues cat lover
San Antonio Express (subscription), Texas - September 13, 2006

Editorial: Absurd law plagues cat lover

One of the biggest threats to common sense is bureaucracy.
Just ask Nydia Montero.

She has run smack-dab into a wall of bureaucratic nonsense, and the conflict has some people shaking their heads.

Montero lives in the Deer River subdivision in Comal County, and she committed the sin of trying to resolve the feral cat problem in her community, something for which she should be commended, not punished.

This was her transgression: Recognizing a feral cat problem in her community, she spent her own money to spay or neuter nine cats before releasing them back into the neighborhood.

About the same time, another concerned neighbor took a different approach to the problem, requesting some traps from Comal County Animal Control.

Animal Control officers picked up two of the cats that were trapped, and Montero, knowing the animals had been spayed or neutered, paid $80 to get them back.

That was it — some transgression.

Now, charged with allowing the cats to roam without wearing a county license and a rabies tag, she faces legal problems that could include up to $4,000 in fines, the Express-News reported.

"It is so illogical," Jenny Burgess, who runs Animal Rescue Connections in San Antonio, told the newspaper. "If it weren't tragic, it would be laughable."

Burgess is right. There is no humor to be salvaged from this situation. Trying to help your community — and then being punished for it — is no laughing matter.

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Original news story:

Comal woman's good deeds toward cats land her in trouble
San Antonio Express (subscription), Texas - Sep 9, 2006
Roger Croteau, Express-News Staff

SPRING BRANCH — Nydia Montero thought she was doing the responsible, humane thing by spending her own money to help solve the feral cat problem in her neighborhood.
But by spaying or neutering, vaccinating and feeding nine unwanted cats, she opened herself up to serious legal trouble, including up to $4,000 in fines.

Nydia Montero's help for feral cats could costs her $4,000 in fines.

"It's just not logical," said veterinarian Roy Madigan, who himself has trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and released feral cats that live near his office and who sometimes works on Montero's house pets. "You try to do the right thing and you get busted. The purpose of the law is to control the population, and this is an acceptable way to do it. We've seen a dramatic drop in the population out here."

It started two years ago, when Montero moved into a mobile home in the Deer River subdivision along FM 306 in Comal County. She realized there was a colony of stray cats around her home and started feeding them. Predictably, she soon was confronted with kittens as well.

Eventually, she trapped nine cats and had them sterilized and given rabies shots. She released them back into the neighborhood.

About the same time, a neighbor decided to address the issue of unwanted cats, too. She got a trap from Comal County Animal Control, and each time she caught a cat, an animal control officer picked up the animal and brought it to an animal shelter.

After several cats disappeared, Montero called animal control and was told about the neighbor trapping the cats. She rushed to the shelter in time to save two of the cats, Roberto and Eduardo, paying $80 to get them back.

Four days later, July 24, eight citations arrived in the mail, four for each of the two cats. She was charged with allowing her cats to roam, not wear a county license and not wear a rabies tag and for not having proof of rabies vaccinations.

Each ticket carries a fine of $100 to $500. Montero has rabies certificates for each cat, so she should be able to beat at least two of the tickets. She has a pretrial hearing set for Sept. 18 at a Justice of the Peace court.

"Not in a million years did I imagine I was doing something illegal," said Montero, a real estate agent. "I won't pay a cent of it. They can put me in jail. What I am doing should not be illegal."

But Animal Control Officer Steve McKin said that by signing the redemption papers at the shelter, Montero was admitting that she owned the cats.

"If her name is on a rabies vaccination form or the redemption form from the shelter, they are considered her animals and she must abide by the Comal County Animal Control Order," McKin said.

Today, Montero and her partner, Beverley Wigley, care for five strays, including Eduardo and Roberto, who've become tame enough to put collars with tags on. One kitten, which Montero and Wigley spent $800 in veterinarian bills to nurse back to health, lives inside their home, but is still pretty skittish.

"I just did not have the heart not to do something for them," Montero said. "I just feel it is the right thing to do."

Ironically, those who contribute to the cat overpopulation problem and a possible rabies outbreak by feeding stray cats but not having them sterilized or vaccinated can't be prosecuted, McKin said. He said he knows of several people who feed colonies of stray cats, but because they have not signed any paperwork claiming them nor have they had them sterilized or vaccinated they have not violated the ordinance.

"You can't consider them irresponsible pet owners because they are not their pets," he said.

It's obvious the county's policies need to change, said Jenny Burgess, who runs Animal Rescue Connections in San Antonio, which has spayed or neutered and released more than 500 stray cats since 2004.

"It is so illogical; if it weren't tragic, it would be laughable," she said of Montero's situation. "She is being penalized for providing a service to her community."Burgess said a trap-spay-release program is more effective and humane than simply trapping and euthanizing cats.

"Cats are territorial," she said. "So if you have non-breeding, vaccinated cats, they will keep other cats out. If you simply remove the cats, it creates a vacuum situation, and more breeding, non-vaccinated cats move in and you set yourself up for a lifetime project of kill, kill, kill."

She added that putting a collar on a young stray is dangerous because as it grows, the collar can get too tight and begin to strangle the cat. Instead, her program cuts a notch in each stray's ear to show that it is sterilized and vaccinated.

County Commissioner Jay Millikin said it may be time for the county to revisit its animal control policy.

"It sounds like one of those Catch-22 situations," he said. "I commend her for neutering the cats, but putting them back in the wild violates our order. My heart goes out to her because she is doing something and spending her own money to do what she thinks is right. Still, it's a violation of our order."