Town of Clayton looking into program that would manage number of stray cats.

WHAT WE'VE REPORTED At the July Clayton Town Council meeting, resident Beverly Wilson approached council about creating a cat ordinance. Wilson explained she had been having issues with a neighbor allowing their cats to basically roam free. More specifically, Wilson said her neighbor's cats were finding a home on her front step.

Mayor Tom Horn told Wilson she wasn't the only resident in town with complaints so council would schedule a workshop to discuss the matter.

WHAT'S NEW Clayton Town Council held a workshop Aug. 22 to discuss the cat concerns. Going into the workshop, Councilwoman Mary Ellen DeBenedictis had done her research and called as many people as she could to see how other towns deal with the issue. These phone calls led her to contact the Town of Harrington as they have an issue with feral cats. Eventually DeBenedictis was put in contact with Hetti Brown, Delaware State Director of the Human Society of the United States. Brown spoke at Clayton's cat workshop.

At the workshop, Brown provided all types of information on feral cats and how Harrington chose to deal with their feral cat issue. Harrington decided to adopt a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program, as shelters aren't taking cats right now. Volunteers run the program and they received a grant so the town wouldn't have to pay for expenses.

While some areas may choose to trap and get rid of cats, Brown told council this wasn't necessarily the best option because as colonies of cats leave, others will move in. But, if the town chose to TNR, the cat colonies could be monitored and managed.

"Cat colonies hold their territory. Cats defend their territory and try to keep other cats out," Brown said.

Benefits to TNR, Brown explained, include ending/limiting reproduction, reducing colony size, and reducing health problems. Brown said Widener University had a feral cat issue but by adopting TNR, there are only two cats left.

It was pointed out that it isn't just a feral cat problem, but a concern of homeowners having too many cats or allowing their cats to roam free. Mayor Tom Horn asked if they should create an ordinance limiting the number of cats.

Some council members voiced their hesitation in creating an ordinance, though. Councilman Dave Letterman said it could be hard to enforce any sort of cat ordinance. Brown also disagreed with a cat ordinance.

"The problem with an ordinance is you don't want to penalize cat owners who haven't done anything wrong," Brown said.

Brown did say that in towns that have done the TNR program, it's proved to be helpful in situations where neighbors argue over cats: "In a situation where there needs to be an intervention, the TNR volunteer group would work with them."

As talks on the TNR program continued, council became more receptive to the idea as a possible solution for Clayton.

WHAT'S NEXT The issue will be on the Sept. 10 Clayton Town Council agenda. However, council needs a little help from residents. Brown said there is a possibility Clayton could get a grant for the program like Harrington did; however, she needs to know how many feral cats are in town. Since half of the issue deals with residents and their cats, no one knew the number of feral cats in town, though there are some.

Council is asking for residents to let them know of areas with a feral cat problem and the number of feral cats. If residents are feeding stray cats, Councilman Dave Letterman asked for these individuals to come forward as well.

"We just want an estimate of how many feral cats there are," he said.

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