Stray cats could be spared an appointment with the executioner under a new ordinance passed Wednesday by the Metro Council that advocates say will lower the feline euthanasia rate in Baton Rouge.
The Metro Council voted 8-1 to approve a “trap-spay-neuter” ordinance that allows animal groups to capture “free-roaming cats,” vaccinate them, spay or neuter them, and then release them back onto the streets where they came from in lieu of being put down.
Cats released under the program will have their ears tipped to identify them.
The measure was highly contentious when it first came before the Metro Council last month, with many opponents arguing that cats aggressively prey on birds and other wildlife, and expressing concern about nuisance animals being returned to neighborhoods where residents don’t want them.
But advocates, including animal welfare groups and some veterinarians, argued the measure would gradually reduce the number of strays in the city by keeping them from reproducing.
“We think this is so important,” said Christel Slaughter, chairwoman of the Companion Animal Alliance, a nonprofit group that oversees the public animal shelter. “It’s one of the big notches we wanted to check off to move toward being no-kill.”
The CAA took control of the animal shelter from the city-parish government in 2011 out of concerns about the high euthanasia rate. The group said it ultimately hopes to turn Baton Rouge into a no-kill city.
Last year, the Companion Animal Alliance euthanized 1,742 cats that could not be adopted. The group says adult cats the shelter takes in are rarely adopted by families because people prefer kittens.
In August, it appeared as though several council members had concerns about the proposed ordinance, but on Wednesday the proposal sailed through without any debate.
Only Joel Boé voted against the measure. Trae Welch, Ronnie Edwards and Ryan Heck were not present for the vote.
The opposition to the proposal was just as passionate as the advocates’ support. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries came out against the measure because of the impact outdoor cats have on the bird population.
Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote a letter to the Metro Council and Mayor-President Kip Holden taking the position that cats are indoor pets and should not be abandoned outdoors.
“We receive countless reports of incidents in which cats — ‘managed’ or not — suffer and die horribly because they must fend for themselves outdoors,” the letter said.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso, who previously expressed concerns about the measure, said he ultimately warmed to the idea because backers agreed to try it out for a 12-month period.
The measure will be brought back for renewal in a year.
He said ultimately everyone agrees that something needs to be done to reduce the stray cat population, and the ordinance was the only proposal brought forward.
One major concern opponents had with the measure was that nuisance cats that residents complain about could be returned to their neighborhoods or moved to another area of the city.
Slaughter said if someone complains about a cat it will not be returned to the streets, but it would instead be euthanized.