UNION – Feeding or taking in stray cats never fares well for residents because the township health department is vigilant about immunizing and licensing Union’s feline domestic population. Those that do not abide by the law soon discover they could be in trouble.
Many people take pity on stray cats, not only feeding them but even taking them in as pets. Unfortunately, many of these individuals fail to follow township health department codes involving the licensing and immunization of these animals, which can result in a violation and summons.
According to township Health Officer Marconi Gapas, because many residents are not aware that cats are required to be immunized and licensed, the health department usually gives ample warnings that a violation has taken place. In addition, should a resident harboring stray cats move, it is the responsibility of the resident to find homes for these animals.
Otherwise, the stray domestic cat population would continue to mount, posing a risk that these cats could contract rabies from another wild animal and subsequently scratch or bite a resident. More importantly, if the animal is not located, the resident would have to undergo a painful set of inoculations so they do not contract rabies themselves.
Whether these strays were feral or were once household pets whose owners let them go because they could no longer care for them, the township health department has had to crack down to ensure proper procedures are followed.
Recently LocalSource received a letter from a township resident living on Ellen Street who felt she was unfairly targeted and harassed by one of the health department inspectors. But according to Gapas, in May the health department received complaints from Ellen Street residents that the person residing at 506 had been feeding stray cats and the animals were becoming a nuisance. One of the primary concerns of neighboring residents was that these cats were urinating and defecating on their properties.
Township health inspector Dennis Malinowski, after receiving this complaint, visited the residence in question multiple times, but to no avail. After leaving his card and not hearing from Walsh, Malinowski sent a letter May 6 notifying the resident she was in violation of local laws involving the harboring of stray cats. The letter, obtained by LocalSource, was on township health department letterhead and clearly stated that any animal fed, harbored or maintained by anyone “is then owned by that individual and must be properly immunized and licensed.”
According to Gapas, the five cats hanging around the garage at the Ellen Street residence were not licensed or immunized. That, he said, is easily verified because the township has a record of every legal cat licensed in Union and when it was last immunized.
Malinowski advised Walsh via the May 6 letter to “cease and desist” feeding the strays within 24 hours or face legal action in municipal court, as per local township ordinances. However, he never heard back from the resident, who was living in a house that actually was the estate of Dominic Friscia.
On June 12, after reaching a dead end, Malinowski visited the residence again and was able to speak with Walsh. The resident said the cats were hers but she would be moving soon and therefore would not have to license or immunize the animals. At issue was whether the cats were strays or not. The health department said Walsh was never clear about this, but Malinowski said he still had to obtain proof that homes were found for the five cats involved, regardless of whether they were owned by the resident or once were strays.
After speaking with the resident in person about these legal responsibilities, Malinowski backed it up with a letter to Walsh June 12 informing her in detail what they discussed and exactly what she had to do to be in compliance with health department regulations.
Included was that Walsh had to remove the cats from the Ellen Street residence within 24 hours, and verify where the animals would be taken and who the caretaker would be. In addition, the health inspector asked that Walsh include the name, address and phone number of these people and the name of the veterinarian if they were brought to a shelter.
“I am asking this information to be assured the animals are not abandoned,” Malinowski said in the letter to Walsh, adding that “the basic care of a cat is $350 a year,” and the resident had to show proof of employment if she was keeping the cats.
While Walsh felt she was being harassed and questioned as if she was “on trial here,” Gapas said Monday in an interview that this was normal procedure for the township health department.
“We want to ensure that people have the means to take care of these cats,” he said, pointing out that all those adopting cats are asked the same questions.
As for how this saga turned out, Malinowski reported that the former resident did supply the information required and provided the names of those who would be adopting the cats. Case closed. And now maybe a few residents will learn a thing or two from Walsh’s story regarding local stray cat laws.