tampabay.com

Complaints end cats' freedom

By LIN YOUNG
Published March 28, 2007


A real "catfight" is going on in tony Pasadena Isles.

The waterfront community, home to about 150 residents, is peaceful, or at least it was before an anonymous neighbor launched the first of four complaints to Pinellas County Animal Control in March, Debbie Jacobs said.

Jacobs' 10-year-old cat, Lucas, was taken to the shelter, and neighbor Dr. Steven Bryan, a veterinarian, has had to put his children's pet up for adoption.

The culprit is ostensibly the Pinellas County ordinance that says cats, like dogs, must be on a leash or under the owner's control. On the books since 1987, the measure is enforced only when there is a complaint, says Dr. Kenny Mitchell, director of Animal Control.

Mitchell said that even a well-fed cat will hunt, thus putting endangered birds at risk. In addition, some cats leave paw prints on cars or urinate on neighbors' property to mark their territory - a problem Mitchell says he has in his own neighborhood, where a cat leaves a pungent scent on his front porch.

He said keeping a cat indoors stops all of that and protects the pet from automobiles, loose dogs and other cats that might fight or expose it to feline leukemia.

Yet calls about cats on the loose, especially anonymous ones, are low priority, he said.

"We don't go looking for these animals ... if everybody's happy in Pasadena, we probably wouldn't be there. If somebody calls, we have to respond," Mitchell said.

The first cat affected there belongs to Bryan's 10-year-old son, who has asthma. Tally-Poe used to be an indoor-outdoor cat, but the 4-year-old pet exacerbates the boy's asthma and can't be inside the house anymore, Bryan said.

After anonymous complaints, Animal Control officers visited twice and told Bryan that Tally-Poe can't live outside unless tied to a stake by a leash. Bryan said that wasn't acceptable and took the cat to his office to live in a cage while he tries to find a new home for the adult cat.

He agrees with Mitchell that enforcement of the ordinance seems rare.

"I bet I've got 700 clients with in-out cats and I've never had one of them come in and say, 'Well, my cat got picked up,' and that's how it is with these ordinances: You never have a problem until somebody complains, and then you have to comply," Bryan said.

It's a sign of the times that neighbors "don't talk. ... If they have a complaint it seems like they register it," he said.

Bryan says that unless the complaining neighbor comes forward, he can't try to find a solution that would allow his 10-year-old twins to keep Tally-Poe.

Although he's not aware of why someone complained about Tally-Poe, he says he does know that Jacobs' cat, Lucas, urinates on people's property.

In an effort to find the anonymous neighbor, and to reassure his children who think it was unfair to lose their cat while six or seven others continued to wander the island, Bryan wrote a letter to his neighbors. In it, he said that if he had to obey the law, he would see to it that everyone does.

The letter resulted in several neighbors pointing fingers at the anonymous neighbor.

Bryan said he doesn't want to appear threatening and prefers that the person approach him first. But before he "absolutely" gives up and reconciles himself to Tally-Poe's never living there again, he said he would "risk stepping on somebody's feelings" and approach the neighbor soon.

In the meantime, an anonymous call resulted in Lucas' being picked up and put in the pound March 14. Jacobs picked her cat up after work that day but said that Lucas is still traumatized by his experience and that the neighbors are "appalled."

She also sent a letter to the neighbors telling them that she wanted to "get our island back to normal" and advised them that Bryan had told her he could offer techniques to keep cats off other people's property.

"It's never been an issue and now it is," Jacobs said, adding that she doesn't understand how the ordinance on cats was passed but that she thinks county commissioners should look at the rule again.

To that end, she contacted Elizabeth Warren, assistant county administrator, who disagreed, stating in an e-mail that the ordinance was enacted to protect both pets and people after Pinellas County became so densely populated.