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St. Clair expects to reconsider cat ordinance Dec. 4

Photo courtesy of Jim Bloch. How many cats should residents be allowed to own?

By Jim Bloch

How many cats should residents of the city of St. Clair be able to own?

The question has bedeviled the St. Clair City Council since an ordinance amendment was introduced Oct. 2 and then tabled at its second reading Oct. 16 amid a howl of objections.

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Now it looks like the council will reconsider the issue at its regular meeting Dec. 4.

“At the October 16 meeting, there was an amendment to the animal control ordinance … that was up for adoption (and) was tabled,” said City Attorney Jim Downey, addressing the council at its regular meeting Nov. 6, as heard on the recording of the meeting posted on YouTube. “I just wanted to let council know that the administration is working on some of the issues raised. I’m speaking with some of my peers who have similar ordinances in their communities. I know that administration has done outreach to some experts in the community who have volunteered their expertise to weigh in on some of these issues we’re handling. So it’s my expectation that we should have the answers and hopefully have the ordinance taken off the table and back before council by the first meeting of December.”

Downey missed the Oct. 16 meeting.

The amendment capped the number of pets a person may own at six, specifying three dogs and three cats.

“No person who resides within the city shall own, possess, shelter, harbor, keep or have custody of more than three dogs and three cats, which are over six months old on the same premises, except where a person has obtained a kennel license as provided for in Act No. 339 of Public Acts of 1919…,” read the proposed amendment.

The amendment made it unlawful to allow cats to “run at large within the city limits,” to “defecate public property or private property” without consent of the property owner, and mandated that cat waste must be picked up by the cat owner and removed from the property.

Violators would have committed a misdemeanor.

Council members raised a number of questions about the amendment.

Why could a resident have six animals total, but could not own four cats and no dogs? If the city allows three dogs and three cats, why not six cats?

One of the stated goals of the amendment was to help control the feral cat population.

But what about people who own more than three cats and take care of them properly?

“Isn’t the problem feral cats, the ones that aren’t being taken care of?” asked council member Micah Volz on Oct. 16. “Can’t we focus on that? If I have four cats in my house that are totally take care of, it’s not a feral cat problem. The number is not the problem. The care is the problem. Does this, as written, help us with the feral cat problem?”

Not allowing even a single cat to run at large and defecate anywhere begins to get at the feral problem, said Volz. If cats run at large, their owners do not have proper “control and custody” of them.

“How do we determine control and custody?” asked Police Chief Tim Raker. “With dogs, they have to be registered.”

There is no requirement in the city, county or state to register cats.

“Animal Control considers (cats) a free range animal,” said City Superintendent Quentin Bishop.

Even with the requirement of registering dogs, Raker said it took six months of work, eight physical visits and four citations to get a N. Fourth Street homeowner to control his dog.

“That’s a lot of man hours on an animal complaint,” Raker said.

Council member Kris Paul suggested an ordinance amendment prohibiting the feeding of cats not owned by the feeder.

Chief Raker urged the council to get the amendment right.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com.

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