Discussion continues about what to do with city’s feral cat population

By Martha Stoffel

O’FALLON – Discussions continued from last month regarding feral cat population control at Monday night’s Public Safety committee meeting. 

At the December meeting, committee members received a presentation from Dr. Dennis Lawler, DVM regarding the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program in hopes City Council would ultimately approve a permissive ordinance. The committee decided during that meeting to table the discussion to further review Dr. Lawler’s information and allow city staff time to gather any information that may assist them in determining a possible recommendation to council going forward.

Public Safety Director Chief Eric Van Hook presented the committee Monday night with information from the public safety and code enforcement perspective. The Public Safety department does not have the ability to resolve feral or stray cat issues for residents. They cannot come to a property and remove a cat nor take possession of a cat that is brought to the public safety facility. City code enforcement staff come into play when there has been an ordinance violation by a resident with regards to feeding or harboring wild animals, a feral cat is considered a wild animal.

The ordinance proposed previously by Dr. Lawler looked to define a “community cat” and establish that the person who feeds the community cat would not have ownership of said cat. According the City Administrator Walter Denton, “that proposal is in direct contradiction to the city’s current nuisance and animal ordinances that say ‘if you feed an animal, you are taking ownership of the vet of the animal and then you are assuming responsibility of that animal.’ The current ordinances do not saying anything about trapping, neutering or releasing.”

Van Hook also indicated during his presentation that a permissive ordinance like the one proposed by Dr. Lawler places feral cats into limbo with no agencies or laws regulating them. Currently, Public Safety ordinances regulate feral cats, while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources regulates other types of wild and game animals. 

The TNR program traps, sterilizes and releases feral or stray cats back to the outdoor area where they were found (or relocated upon request). Dr. Lawler also indicated sterilizing these cats not only helps control the population, but also reduces the nuisance behaviors commonly associated with feral cats. The TNR program is funded by private donations, as well as funds from the state for population control.

There are not any current city ordinances that prohibit or prevent a program like this from operating within city limits. The committee ultimately decided not to take any action with the establishment of a new ordinance, since the TNR program can legally operate within the city limits of O’Fallon.

Any residents with a feral or stray cat issue on their property may contact a wildlife trapping company and pay to have the cats trapped and removed, or they can contact the St. Clair County Humane Society or St. Clair TNR & Rescue to have them visit their property to trap feral cats as part of the TNR program. Residents may only authorize the trapping of animals on their property, not a neighbor’s property or public property. 

According to current city ordinances, any resident who feeds or harbors wild animals on their property are assuming responsibility for them and may be cited for an ordinance violation if they are not in compliance with nuisance and animal control regulations. Residents dealing with these types of issues with a neighbor are encouraged to contact the city code enforcement through the Community Development Department at City Hall to file a complaint.