A proposed Bellefonte ordinance has animal lovers up in arms. Here’s why

A proposed ordinance by a Bellefonte Borough councilman to prohibit residents from feeding stray cats has caused an outcry in the community, particularly among animal rescue and lost and found groups.

Councilman and self-described “Cat Wrangler,” Evan Duffey who recently resigned after accepting a job offer in California, drafted an ordinance for the borough’s Oct. 15 meeting that would ban residents from feeding stray animals or face penalty of a fine.

The ordinance, said Duffey, came out of an uptick in calls to the borough about stray cats being a nuisance, such as tearing up residents’ gardens, leaving dead rodents as “presents” and running across the street in front of cars.

“If you keep feeding stray animals faster than I can get them fixed, then they will continue to procreate and then get fed until the problem is worse,” he said at an Oct. 1 meeting.

Duffey amended the Oct. 15 ordinance draft to shift language from “feral” cats to “stray” cats, since the former’s definition refers to cats in the third generation without human contact. He also said part of the ordinance includes a provision for residents to continue to feed and shelter stray colonies with the express intent of helping the borough capture them for Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR) purposes.

Lesa King, president and founder of Hope’s Dream Rescue and Sanctuary, an animal rescue group, said she disagrees with the approach wholeheartedly.

“I felt like I’d been sucker punched,” she said, when she read the Centre County Gazette article about the ordinance. “I think we all need to work together ... and do what’s right here, and it’s not starving the cats.”

King, like other animal advocates, prefers the TNR method, which safely catches and sterilizes cats and releases them back into the neighborhood. And she does not think withholding food after neutering cats will solve the problem.

On Potter Street in Bellefonte, King said her organization has already done TNR on seven cats. After a kitten that was part of the stray colony on Potter Street got hit by a car while in the road, King said residents called her for help.

But she said she didn’t know the cat problem in Bellefonte was bad enough to require an ordinance. King’s organization primarily tries to place strays in safe homes, and she said TNR efforts can help animal rescue groups find strays and get them adopted.

Christa Gallagher, the founder of Pet Recovery of Centre County, said she is familiar with the stray problem in Bellefonte.

“We understand that stray cats are a problem and they are fielding complaints. We know this problem because we see it every day and we are out working every day to fix it,” she said. “We would like nothing more than to work with (Bellefonte) but we need a humane solution.”

Pet Recovery, though primarily a lost and found pet group, also helps with TNR efforts in the community. Gallagher said the stray problem is not as black and white as the ordinance portrays it.

“One of the cats we trapped turned out to be sick and NOT feral,” she said in a Facebook message. “Many of these cats are not feral. They are lost pets or maybe they were abandoned by their owners and they are not equipped to survive without some help.”

Gallagher said she was “alarmed and saddened” by the news of the proposed Bellefonte ordinance. Tyrone Borough Council passed a similar ordinance about two weeks ago in response to nearly the same problems Duffey laid out at the meeting.

Bellefonte Borough Council will discuss the stray cat ordinance further at its Dec. 5 work session.