OMAK – A city council committee will study the cat ordinance after animal advocates complained that a person hosting two feeding stations was being threatened with a citation for having too many felines.
Tamara Hively, director of Okanogan Regional Spay and Neuter Project – also known as OK SNIP – told the council during its May 20 meeting that the South Ash Street resident hosts feeding station boxes for “community cats,” or felines with no owner.
Hively said a neighbor complained about the boxes and the associated four felines, alleging the host was breaking the city ordinance that limits residents to three cats. She said her program explained the community cat-hosting program to the neighbor, who seemed to understand.
The problem apparently was that the cats relieved themselves in a flower bed, sprayed and caused the neighbor’s dog, which was tied in the yard, to bark, Hively said.
The host was threatened with a code enforcement citation for having too many cats.
According to city ordinance, “it is unlawful for any person or family to keep or maintain more than two dogs and/or three cats over the age of 6 months at any one residence or premises in the city of Omak.” An exception can be made for dogs if a resident has a valid animal fancier permit or the premises is a kennel or boarding place owned or operated by a veterinarian.
Hively said the ordinance makes no provisions for people who host community cats, which have been captured, spayed or neutered, and returned to their colony area.
“Please leave these kind people alone,” she said.
Hively and Dot Shank, president and founder of OK SNIP, said community cats are formerly owned, but for whatever reason now are fending for themselves. They are too wild to be adoptable, but are not feral.
“We have not seen true ferals (in Omak) for several years, Hively said.
Feral cats have never been owned and are truly wild, the women said.
“If they’re adoptable, they are taken to Animal Foster Care” cat shelter in Okanogan, Hively said. If community cats are relocated, “they find their way back” to their previous home territory or other cats move in.
The feeding stations are built so that cats can get in to eat, but larger animals – such as dogs and large raccoons – cannot, said Shank.
“The ordinance doesn’t speak to unowned cats,” she said.
“Who owns a cat?” asked Councilman Dave Womack. “I have a cat, but it owns me.”
“Community cats are unfriendly,” Hively said. “We found people who are willing to put boxes on their property. They don’t feed them, our volunteers do.”
Some council members pointed to the word “maintain” in the ordinance, arguing that providing a feeding station could be construed as maintaining the felines.
The women also asked the council to put a stop to the code enforcement officer’s use of a portable “gas chamber” used to euthanize cats.
Such devices are banned in a number of states and the American Veterinary Medical Association has issued protocols for their use. Hively said OK SNIP, Animal Foster Care and Okandogs – a subsidiary of OK SNIP – do not charge the city for taking in unwanted animals.
“Please destroy the gas chamber,” she said.
Police Chief Jeff Koplin said the chamber is used.
Councilwoman Nattalie Cariker suggested the council community support and public safety committee look at the women’s complaints and report back to the full council.
In other business, the council:
-Approved purchase of a new diving board for the city pool. The cost is $6,086.25.
-Approved an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for city street striping. The estimated cost is $9,000.
-Authorized$3,863 in city funds for a local match to the state Department of Transportation for a federal pavement maintenance project at the Omak Municipal Airport.
-Approved a contract with Great Floors, Spokane Valley, for replacing city hall carpet. The cost is $23,349.17. Carpet in the council chamber is not included.
-Approved a fireworks permit for Oxford House to sell fireworks in the Walmart parking lot during Fourth of July.
-Learned of a proposal to paint pickleball court lines on the concrete slab in the Triangle Park area of East Side Park. There would be no cost to the city.