For Westwego residents, feeding a stray cat in your neighborhood may now result in a city-imposed fine, should that cat be deemed “a nuisance” to neighbors.
In response to ongoing concerns and complaints about an abundance of stray cats in the city, the five-member Westwego City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Monday night that will bar people from feeding them within city limits. Around 20 people spoke against the law at the meeting, with a few in support of it.
At the meeting, Mayor Joe Peoples said that complaints about stray cats were one of the top reasons residents called his office.
The ordinance, which Peoples signed Tuesday, also states that people feeding stray cats are responsible for the cats’ behavior, including “urinating and defecating on porches or property, digging and defecating in landscaping, sitting on vehicles or causing any nuisance on a neighboring property.”
The only exception to the ordinance would be people working with the Jefferson Parish Animal Control Board, using a tactic for reducing stray cat populations known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), feeding the stray cats in order to capture them and get them neutered.
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The ordinance does not lay out the penalty for each offense or the amount of the fines, but the mayor said at the meeting Tuesday that the City of Westwego Department of Code Enforcement will give the person a warning. Should problems persist over time, the city will issue a citation and order the person to appear in court to potentially face fines of up to $500 per offense, according to the section of city code cited in the law.
Jeff Dorson, director of the Louisiana Humane Society, told Gambit the ordinance is “regressive rather than progressive.” He has been a vocal opponent of the feeding ban and said the only proven method of reducing the stray cat population long term is TNR.
The Best Friends Animal Society, a Utah organization, came to Westwego last year to start a community cat program. The program has multiple vets offering free or low-cost spay and neuter services and community outreach, where they will mediate conflicts over stray cat complaints. Dorson said these existing efforts are working.
“Anytime you have free or low-cost services, people take advantage of that,” he said.
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Councilwomen Lisa Valence said she voted for the ordinance because she felt it was a fair compromise between those feeding strays and their agitated neighbors.
"I supported the amended ordinance that requires people who feed feral cats follow the [Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return] policy to promote a healthy cat life, but I also support the neighbors who cope with colonies of cats passing through yards," Valence said in a statement. "We needed to listen to both sides and make compromises, which I think we did."
Dorson said he expects the legislation to be challenged in court “on multiple levels” and that the Louisiana Humane Society is likely to legally defend anyone cited under the ordinance.
“We believe that this ordinance unjustifiably singles out cat caregivers and subjects them to harsh penalties if found guilty of violating any of the ordinance's provisions,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “We will soon meet with legal counsel to develop one or more challenges to these regulations.”