Somewhere in the middle of the July 10 public hearing for cat licensure, a cell phone went off, ringing to the tune of a popular cat-food commercial:
"Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow / Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow / Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow."
It was a sign, if any were still needed, that Pittsburgh City Councilor Jim Motznik had stepped into a litterbox full of pissed-off cat lovers.
Motznik's highly controversial bill would require cat owners to seek a license, which would cost $12 for cats who aren't neutered, and $7 for those little buggers who get the snip-and-tuck. Motznik says the license will force cat owners to take responsibility for their pets, rather than simply letting their animals run free. The cat owners in attendance, however, were not impressed.
"I think this is just plain silly," said Dede Luterman of Squirrel Hill. "There's no way you can enforce something like this. If you've got to spend the city's money, then spend it on a spay-and-neutering program."
All of the 40 or so cat fanciers who packed council chambers were against the legislation. Some came from as far as Cranberry Township to scoff at Motznik's bill, and almost all of them seemed to be volunteer caretakers of wild (also known as feral) cat colonies.
The volunteers trap the cats, have them neutered and then release them back into the wild. The animals can't be domesticated; their only instincts are to eat, sleep and breed. By neutering them, volunteers are controlling the cat population -- and that, they say, is the best way to control trespassing cats.
"There are 145,000 feral cats living in city limits," said Carolyn DeForest. "These animals are the product of negligent human beings and we need help, not roadblocks."
Volunteers fear that those who help feral cats would have to shell out the licensing fee. The feral-cat contingent wants the city to pay for a spay-and-neuter program for low-income folks and some support for a TNR (trap, neuter, release) program.
But Motznik says feral cats and cat licensing are two separate issues. Under the current law, any cat picked up and not claimed can be euthanized or put up for adoption within three days. Motznik says a licensed cat would get 10 days before it is either adopted or euthanized -- that's a perk not offered under the current law. The law doesn't call for the licensing of feral cats, but if a person decided to license one, that person would be responsible for it.
For Motznik's part, he says he has received a lot of e-mails from people who seem to be split evenly on the program (which council will discuss July 18 and possibly vote on July 25).
"The people here today seem to be concerned with feral cats, and I don't think that should be thrown into the cat-licensing issue," Motznik said. "There doesn't appear to be much support for [licensing] at this time, but we'll bring it before council and see what happens."
But councilors have already expressed doubts about the bill. Unlike our feline friends, this legislation isn't likely to land on its feet.
Upcoming Public Hearings and Special Meetings
Proposed renovations to two Pittsburgh (don't call me public) schools facilities will be discussed at two public hearings, scheduled for 10 and 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 2. Most notable is an extensive renovation project at the soon-to-be-reopened Milliones Middle School on Centre Avenue. The project has been the center of some neighborhood controversy, as some residents aren't excited by the thought of school children traipsing across their properties once again.