Leander neighbors want city to enforce ban on catching cats, fast
LEANDER — Carmen Amaya says Leander’s ordinance against trapping and releasing wild animals — including feral cats — needs to be enforced but that police and animal control officers keep allowing people to trap cats so they can be neutered and then released back into the community.
Amaya, a member of the city’s arts board, says she has reason to push for enforcement. Her dog, Keeper, came down with an infection after a feral cat scratched his face in April in the backyard of their Westwood neighborhood home.
“It cost $800 in vet bills,” she said. Her 9year-old daughter, Vanessa, was scratched on the arm and chest by the same cat. Amaya has photos to prove it.
“I’ve been to the city, the police and code enforcement, and all I’ve gotten is the runaround. The same cat is still hanging around my house,” she said.
Feral cats cause other problems, said Richard Archer, who lives in the neighboring Mason Creek subdivision.
“They stake their territory and spray and defecate in the garden. They carry diseases. And they’re killing our songbirds,” he said.
The nonprofit rescue group Shadow Cats has been trapping, neutering and vaccinating feral cats for some time in Leander, director Sheila Smith said. The Round Rock-based group successfully lobbied that city in 2007 to change its law to allow trap-neuter-return, or TNR, and is trying to do the same in Leander, she said. Since 2004, volunteers for the group have trapped, neutered and vaccinated 3,000 cats in Central Texas, Smith said. About 500 cats were adopted, and the rest were released.
The problem, as Amaya points out, is that it’s illegal under Leander city ordinance. But the ordinance isn’t being enforced when it comes to feral cats. Council Member Carl Wake said no one has been prosecuted for breaking the law. Police Chief Don Hatcher did not return phone calls seeking comment on why police or animal control officers haven’t enforced the ordinance.
The rescue group volunteers “have been operating in a shadowy area,” Mayor John Cowman said. “They do provide a humane service, but it’s also against the law.”
Smith told city officials last month that her group was breaking the law and that that was one of the reasons she was seeking a change in the ordinance. Her group is not trying to flout the law, she said.
In early June, the Leander City Council was considering a change in its animal ordinance to allow TNR, but after hearing opposition from Amaya, Archer and others, Cowman appointed a task force that will report to the council in August with a recommendation on the ordinance.
Smith said such a program won’t cost the city a dime if her group does the trapping. Right now, if animal control officers trap an unwanted cat, it costs $150 to feed it and take it to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, Hatcher told council members. Hatcher also estimated that it could cost up to $50,000 a year to monitor and staff a city-run TNR program.
Amaya said Shadow Cats’ work might help control the feral cat population, but she said it doesn’t make sense that the group returns the cats to the neighborhood where they were trapped. Smith said it’s normal to return a cat to its territory where it feels safe.
“But our feral cat is a nuisance. We don’t want it here,” Amaya said.
Smith said volunteers have unsuccessfully tried several times to trap the cat near Amaya’s house in hopes of finding it an adoptive home.
While the city waits for the task force’s recommendation, Smith said Tuesday that her group will cease trapping in Leander.
“Out of respect for the council, we won’t be doing any trapping in Leander,” she said.
Some residents are upset about feral cats. From left are Carmen Amaya; Naomi Smith, 2; Richard Archer; Vanessa Amaya, 9; Jessie Smith, ; Porsche Amaya, 1 ; and Wednesday Amaya, 11.