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Originally published: 2013-10-14 13:35:50
Last modified: 2013-10-14 13:36:35

Changes proposed to animal control ordinance

by Kellen Short

Watauga County is considering a change to its Animal Care and Control Ordinance that would define feral cats as wild animals.


The designation would allow the Watauga Humane Society to bypass the provisions of a new state law enacted in July that requires shelters to hold all animals for at least 72 hours before euthanasia or other disposal.


By designating feral cats as wildlife, the staff would not be burdened with caring for three days for aggressive or uncontrollable cats that will ultimately be unadoptable, said Executive Director Laurie Vierheller.


"At the end of that three days, that animal still isn't adoptable," she said.


It also reduces the risk for staff caring for the feral cats, which tend to scratch and bite, she said.


Instead, the Watauga Humane Society could devote its limited space and manpower for better-behaved stray cats that are more likely to be adopted quickly.


The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defines feral cats as wild- or semi-wild animals that live on their own or in a group outdoors, apart from human contact.


Vierheller said staff often knows from the start whether a stray animal will calm enough to become a pet.


"If they're in-between, if we can't tell for sure if they're feral or not, then those are the cats that we're going to take anyway and try to rehabilitate and make them suitable for a home," she said.


Vierheller said she thought it was highly unlikely that staff would mistake an escaped housecat for a feral cat and euthanize or dispose of it before the owner arrived to search for it.


The Watauga Humane Society, which operates in conjunction with Watauga County Animal Control, will provide free traps to residents who wish to trap feral cats and take them in for spay or neuter surgery.


Vierheller said animal control workers cannot simply leave feral cats in the wild to roam because of the possibility that they will spread rabies, diseases and parasites to other animals or people.


Watauga County commissioners will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday to accept public comment on the proposed changes, which add the words "unaltered feral cat" to the definition of wild animals. The meeting is held at the Watauga County Administration Building at 814 W. King St. in Boone.