A proposed ordinance targeting stray felines in East Baton Rouge Parish pitted cat lovers against bird watchers on Wednesday night.

The Metro Council considered an ordinance, backed by the Companion Animal Alliance, a nonprofit that operates the public animal shelter, providing for a trap-neuter-release program allowing homeless cats to be returned to neighborhoods as “community cats.”

The proposal allows animal groups to capture “free roaming cats,” vaccinate them, spay or neuter them, and then release them back onto the streets in lieu of euthanasia. Cats released under the program would have their ears tipped to identify them.

The council deferred the vote for 30 days in an effort to get more information; however, several council members expressed opposition to the measure.

Advocates of the ordinance, including veterinarians and volunteers with animal welfare groups, argued that the program is a humane way to gradually reduce the stray cat population.

“A vote against this is a vote for the killing of thousands of cats,” Christel Slaughter, Companion Animal Alliance chairwoman said after the meeting. She said last year the CAA put down 1,742 cats that could not be adopted.

Opponents complained that stray cats aggressively prey on birds and other wildlife, and expressed concern about nuisance animals being returned to neighborhoods where homeowners don’t want them.

Michael Seymour, an avian biologist representing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said his agency strongly opposes creating additional protections for stray cats.

“If you spay and neuter an animal, you haven’t done anything to its teeth and claws,” Seymour said.

Miriam Lane Davey, a Baton Rouge resident of 36 years, said she and her husband are bird enthusiasts who for years enjoyed spotting a variety of beautiful birds in their neighborhood.

“I don’t see these birds anymore and I think it’s now because of the house cats, both feral and pet,” Davey said.

Advocates of the ordinance said spaying and neutering cats make them less aggressive. They also noted that cats help control the mice and rat population.

“Are we here today to say that we are OK killing thousands of cats that are healthy, vaccinated and fixed?” said Colin Clark, a volunteer with the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society. “Animals have some life, some value and some dignity.”

CAA officials said the cost for spaying or neutering and vaccinations would come from grants and private donors. CAA Director Beth Brewster said she currently has about $85,000 in funds to cover the $35 per cat cost of spaying, neutering and vaccinations.

Council members expressed concern about unwanted cats being returned to neighborhoods, but Slaughter said there would be a form a homeowner could sign if they reported a nuisance cat and didn’t want it back on their property.

Councilman Joel Boé said he is concerned those cats would be dropped off in other neighborhoods. But Brewster said they would likely be brought to neighborhoods where cat owners request them, like rural properties with barns, or they could end up being euthanized.

Hilton Cole, the director of Animal Control, which is the enforcement agency working with the public shelter, said the program could violate laws that prevent animal abandonment.

The council is expected to take the issue up for a vote on Sept. 24.

The CAA took control of the animal shelter from the city-parish government in 2011 in an attempt to eventually transform Baton Rouge into a no-kill city.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/