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City Council delays decision on feral cat program

A plan to trap, neuter or spay, and then release a colony of feral cats in the city of Hudson has encountered obstacles.

The organization proposing the program -- Farm, Feral and Stray -- says it can’t afford the liability insurance the city is requiring. And the owners of the Hanley Place Apartments haven’t given the organization permission to cross their property to reach the city-owned storm water basin where the cats would be trapped.

The Hudson City Council on Dec. 16 postponed deciding whether to approve the trap, neuter and return program. Mayor Alan Burchill said the council didn’t have enough information yet to make the decision.

Tanya Borg, a Centuria resident and the head of Farm, Feral and Stray, came to the City Council a month ago with the plan to care for the colony of about 30 cats living behind the garages at the Hanley Place Apartments. Borg was accompanied by Angela Fellrath of Hudson.

In a letter to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Borg and Fellrath said residents of the apartments have been feeding the cats for almost eight years.

But new management has taken over the building and threatened residents with eviction if they continue to feed the cats, Borg and Fellrath wrote. They said Farm, Feral and Stray received a plea for help from an apartment resident.

Borg told the City Council in November that her organization manages six cat colonies in five counties. She said it has spayed or neutered 450 cats and placed about 45 in adoptive homes.

After the cats are spayed/neutered, they are returned to the location where they were trapped. Farm, Feral and Stray provides small shelters for them to live in, and volunteers feed them.

Borg said the food is put out for a couple of hours each day at a set time, and then taken away, so it doesn’t attract rodents or other pest animals.

She said the program is the humane way to deal with the problem of free-roaming cats, of which there are an estimated 800 living in Hudson and North Hudson.

Killing or relocating the cats doesn’t work, Borg said, because other cats move in and take their place. She said that by neutering or spaying the cats, the population gradually declines over time.

The City Council at its Nov. 18 meeting referred the proposal back to the Public Safety Committee. The council also directed City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick to investigate entering into an agreement with Farm, Feral and Stray that would be similar to the one the city has with a group that conducts special hunts to reduce the deer population.

The organization would need to provide liability insurance, which is also required of River Valley Deer Management, the council decided.

Attorney Gwen Kuchevar, from the same River Falls firm as Munkittrick, spoke for her at the Dec. 16 council meeting. Munkittrick wasn’t in attendance, but council had a memo that she had written regarding the proposed feral cat program.

Munkittrick wrote that Borg had told her that it would cost $650 for her organization to purchase liability insurance. Farm, Feral and Stray’s annual budget is just $3,000, and Borg wasn’t willing to spend that much on insurance, Munkittrick reported.

She said the organization was willing to waive any claims of damages by its officers and volunteers, but such waivers aren’t always enforced by courts.

“Further, they do not protect the city against litigation by third parties (persons not involved in the program) for claims arising out of the program,” Munkittrick wrote. “Thus, if any injuries occur related to this program, the city would be the likely target because the city carries insurance.”

Munkittrick said Borg had contacted the Hanley Place Apartments manager about getting access to the city property where the cats would be trapped and released, but hadn’t received an answer.

At the Nov. 18 City Council meeting, Community Development Director Dennis Darnold cautioned against allowing volunteers to access the Hanley Road site on city property. He said the storm water basin has steep slopes, rough terrain and sometimes contains standing water.

Borg suggested accessing the area from Gateway Circle to the north, Munkittrick indicated. She said the city staff was looking into that suggestion.

Finally, Munkittrick wrote that changes would have to be made to the Hudson City Code if the program is allowed.

The code currently says that any person or group that harbors animals is considered to be the owner/custodian. The code also prohibits allowing cats, dogs and other domesticated animals to run at large.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub, chair of the Public Safety Committee, indicated there is a possibility of operating the program on private property.

Alderperson Lori Bernard moved to postpone the decision on the program until a future meeting. The motion was seconded by Yacoub and carried with no dissenting votes.

There were no representatives of Farm, Feral and Stray at the meeting.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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