Lawrence Humane Society asks city to allow catch and release of feral cat colonies

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from Aug. 3, 2007, feral cats gather for a meal provided by volunteers at Douglas Memorial Park in Cape May, N.J. (AP Photo/David Gard)

The Lawrence Humane Society wants the city to consider allowing colonies of feral cats to live in the city as long as the cats have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered.

Currently, allowing cats to roam free is against city code, and humane society representatives say the animal shelter previously has had to euthanize dozens of cats because they are not adoptable.

The Lawrence City Commission will consider various changes to the animal control ordinance and discuss the potential “community cats” program as part of its meeting Tuesday. The shelter is requesting the city change its animal control code to enable it to operate a community cats program that aims to reduce the feral cat population over time without the use of euthanasia.

LHS Animal Welfare Counsel Katie Barnett said that some of the feral cats the shelter picks up are adopted out as part of its working cat program, which places cats at farms or industrial properties in the county for rodent control purposes, but that some have ended up being euthanized. Barnett said that feral cats are stressed and uncomfortable being caged while they wait to be adopted as part of the working cat program, and they could have just stayed in their colony.

“Our organization does not support the unnecessary killing of cats that could maybe find a home, so we’ve been working so hard to do that,” Barnett said. “But we can’t give them to industrial, commercial areas here in (the city limits); there are limits to what we can do with those cats. And the fact of the matter is they shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

The number of stray cats the Lawrence Humane Society takes in has been increasing the past three years and now totals more than 1,100 annually, with more than 100 of those cats being unsocialized or feral, according to numbers the humane society provided to the Journal-World. The shelter euthanized all feral cats until 2016, when the shelter launched its working cat adoption program. The animal shelter has previously said its overall “live-release rate” is 93 percent.

Last year, 64 feral cats were adopted as part of the working cat program and three were euthanized, according to the numbers. LHS Interim Executive Director Meghan Scheibe said that no feral cats have had to be euthanized so far this year, but that the working cat program uses shelter resources that could go to other animals. The working cat length of stay last year was 38 days, and Barnett said the typical length of stay for socialized or adoptable cats was only 13 days.

As part of the Lawrence community cats program, the humane society would trap a colony of feral cats in order to vaccinate and spay or neuter them, according to a memo to the commission. The shelter could then return the cats to where they were collected if changes were made to city code allowing for such releases. Barnett said other cities, such as Topeka and Kansas City, Kan., already have community cat programs.

City staff states that although they are interested in working together with the humane society to present a proposal to the commission regarding the program, they do not have enough information about the program to make a recommendation at this time. Staff is asking the commission to provide feedback on a potential program as part of the meeting.

“This is a large discussion item that warrants additional time for creating a collaborative plan between the Humane Society, the City, and any other stakeholders, as well as receiving valuable public input,” the memo states.

Following the initial discussion of the community cats program, city staff would return the topic to the commission in coming weeks, according to the memo. As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission will also discuss the creation of a list of prohibited animals. The city animal control ordinance currently has a list of permitted animals, and the humane society recommends creating a prohibited list instead as a means to provide better guidance.

The commission will also consider several clarifications and updates to the existing animal control ordinance, including sections that limit the number of cats a person can own to four and that create a three-tier approach to identifying animals as a nuisance, dangerous or vicious. All the proposed changes to the animal control ordinance are available on the city’s website,

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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