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National City changes cat policy Allison K. Sampite | Sat, May 07 2011 12:00 PM

At Tuesday's National City City Council meeting, council members voted to modify a city ordinance dealing with feral cats in the city.

The discussion was continued from an April 5 meeting in which council directed city staff to provide information regarding feral cats, related municipal codes and animal shelter costs.

The conflict between local animal groups and the city's animal control department is based on making a decision to humanely eliminate growing feral cat colonies.

A popular control method known as trap-neuter-release was illegal in National City because municipal codes prevented people from feeding feral cats outside of a private residence.

However, using this method, some animal groups would lure cats to capture them to be spayed or neutered.

Amber Millen of the Feral Cat Coalition said the city should use the TNR method because it is cost-effective.

"Feral cats don't spread disease or get sick any more than regular cats do," she said.

Furthermore, most feral cats get euthenized because they are not adoptable, she said.

According to the city's code, cats at large may be trapped using a non-lethal, humane trap but must be turned over to an animal shelter or an officer within 24 hours. National City is the only municipality in San Diego County that traps feral cats, unless they are sick or injured.

Previously, Josh Hirschmiller with East County Animal Rescue said the city's charter increases feral cats as a nuisance in the community. He requested changes be made to the code to allow for TNR as well as for the feeding of cats away from private property.

National City police Lt. Jose Tellez said the method has consequences, including possible exposure of feline diseases between pets and feral cats. In addition, there are no natural predators in the city to help control the colonies, which can range from 10 to 30 or more, he said.

"I hear both sides," National City Mayor Ron Morrison said. "We've always had problems with stray animals in particular."

National City has one animal regulations officer to handle the entire feral cat population and averages three to four calls daily, 90 percent of which are complaints related to cat colonies or feral cats at shopping centers, industrial complexes, residential areas and schools.

Once a complaint is received by the officer, the resident is placed on a waiting list for a trap, which residents can keep for up to one month. During that time, residents transport captured cats to the Chula Vista Animal Shelter.

Last year, more than 650 feral cats were brought to the Chula Vista shelter from National City.

From 2003 to 2008, it cost National City an annual average of $99,000 for shelter services with Chula Vista.

Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis made the motion that feeding feral cats should only be allowed for the trapping, spaying or neutering of them.

Councilman Luis Natividad cast the only dissenting vote.

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