Iowa Town Ending Practice of Trapping and Sometimes Shooting Feral Cats

JEFFERSON, Iowa -- City officials in Jefferson have agreed to halt a controversial animal control practice effective immediately and implement what some say is a more humane one.

Jefferson has a feral cat problem.  Residents and officials say there are a handful of large cat colonies roaming the town. Until Thursday, residents could request a live trap monitored by police.  If police caught a cat that was deemed "unadoptable" they would euthanize the cat with a gunshot.  Residents like Sue Taylor say they didn't know that was the case.

“Kinda cruel, I think…I just thought they always took them to the animal rescue, but no, I don’t think they should shoot them” she said.

If the cat appeared healthy and taken care of, police would take them to a local shelter, but city officials say unadoptable feral cats pose a risk to the community.

“We see disease spread, it can be a problem for citizen’s pets for similar reasons and it can be a problem for native wildlife” said City Councilman Matt Wetrich.

Under city code officers are granted the ability to "humanely destroy feral cats", but whether a gunshot is considered humane is somewhat up for debate.  According to Iowa code, gunshots are permitted in certain circumstances, but the code also says they should not be a routine practice. The Iowa ARL says Jefferson police used this method about once a month.

“If it's their policy that you judge a cat you pick up to be unadoptable, that becomes routine” said Scott Wilson, the ARL’s Animal Welfare Coordinator.

The ARL, along with the Animal Protection and Education Charity asked the city to instead implement a spay, neuter, and release program.

“If you take the cats out of the community, more cats are going to fill the void; it's just a natural function. If there's a good environment for cats, cats are going to come in. Where if you have an existing colony that is not breeding, it'll keep new cats from entering the colony, but the colony will slowly, over time, die out” said Wilson.

The city agreed, and effective immediately, will no longer be offering traps to residents.

“It's certainly not ideal, and I think if you would ask any of our great officers that's not their favorite thing to do or what they'd prefer to do, I know there are other options and we'll be exploring that moving forward” said Wetrich.

City officials say it costs about 35 dollars per cat to euthanize them with either drugs or gas; they say between that and holding costs, a gunshot was more cost effective.  The ARL says Animal Protection and Education, along with Alley Cat Allies out of Maryland, have agreed to help fund the new spay, neuter, release program.  Officials say it could take up to 18 months to get the program off the ground and revise city code.