Still Waters: This is how it’s done

I’m so proud of our Alamosa city staff, city council and local residents for developing an ordinance amendment regarding feral cats that I think (most) everyone can live with, especially the cats.

As the folks working on this ordinance said, the cats didn’t ask to be abandoned or born in an undomesticated environment, and the neighbors didn’t ask for their yard to become a giant litter box. Trying to address complaints from some of those neighbors, the city staff — primarily our city attorney Erich Schwiesow and our city manager Heather Brooks — began to work on a change to our existing animal ordinance that would deal with feral (undomesticated or “wild” as it were) cats, something the city has never provided for in the past.

Wisely, the city staff reached out to animal groups who are more familiar with felines, and even more wisely, the city and the animal groups got together to develop an ordinance that not only gives relief to the neighbors but also takes care of the cats.

For many years there have been folks, whether a single person or a group, who have fed and sheltered the feral cats in the city. These folks are volunteers, often using their own meager incomes to buy food for the whiskered population that I’m sure had grown tired of a strictly mouse diet.

As crucial as caring for the current cat population has been the ongoing and long-time effort to curb overpopulation through TNR (trap, neuter, release.) Again, for many years dedicated volunteers have trapped feral cats, neutered or spayed them and then released them back to their “colonies.” This, in the long run, is the solution for both the overpopulation of cats and dogs (probably humans, too, but that’s another subject.)

The newly amended ordinance, which was passed on Wednesday night to the literal applause of animal lovers in the audience, makes provisions for cat colonies to legally exist in the city, for an active TNR program and for the last resort to use euthanasia properly administered by a veterinarian or vet tech. I’m glad that is the last resort. The city will try to work with animal groups to resolve cat problems in some other manner before administering the last resort.

And the city is even going to budget a couple thousand dollars a year to pay for traps, spaying and neutering.

What a success story this is! How awesome that elected officials, city staff and animal-loving residents could work together on this. I know and admire the various animal groups in this area who all have a heart for helping the innocent creatures who otherwise have no advocate. As I have said many times, animal people are not always “people” people. I can relate most days. I have a plaque that says “Dogs welcome; People tolerated,” and many days that’s how I feel. So for the animal folks to work together on this is pretty awesome.

I couldn’t lend much expertise, personally, as I have never owned a cat. I’ve always had dogs and although many folks have both, my canines have not been amenable (to put it politely) to coexisting with felines.

My folks always had dogs too, although my mother had cats when she was growing up, until they moved to Pueblo and two cats adopted them. The cats had been owned by someone once, which is often the case with strays, because both had been fixed. “Boots,” as my folks named the male, passed away last year after a very long life. “Smudge,” the black cat who takes up residence between my folks’ and their neighbor’s yard, is a female. She is more wary than Boots was (he loved everybody), so it’s hard to get a pet in, unless I catch her off guard. But she definitely has laid claim to my folks’ residence as her own and is never happy when the Alamosa dogs show up. She usually comes out to thumb her paw at them when they are securely placed in my car for the ride home.

Smudge is one of the lucky ones who found folks to take care of her. The feral cat colonies in the San Luis Valley who are maintained by dedicated and wonderful volunteers are also some of the lucky ones. Donna Ditmore and her crew have even created “kitty condos” with bales of hay, and they go out every day to make sure their furry charges have fresh water and food.

Short of an oversized lap to sleep in, it doesn’t get any better than that.