URBANA — Angela Van Hoose lined up the foam plates and spooned a heap of salmon-flavored Fancy Feast on each one.
Then she squeezed some disposable hand warmers to heat them, so she could put one under every plate that she would soon put on her back patio. It was 10 degrees outside, after all, and she didn’t want the food to freeze because the neighborhood strays — she calls them Othello, Whitey and Wilbur — might go hungry.
This is her daily routine, to feed these cats that have never really belonged to anyone. Each one has been neutered or spayed and vaccinated against rabies, all at Van Hoose’s expense. She keeps the food outside for only a short time to prevent attracting unwanted critters (think skunks and raccoons) and provides a heated, igloo-shaped shelter for nasty-weather days.
There is no harm in what she does. She is certain of it.
So when she heard that leaders of Urbana’s city government were considering a feeding/sheltering ban and wanted to enact an ordinance that would make what she does a crime, she and others in the cat-advocate community mobilized. They showed up in force — about 50 in total — at an Urbana City Council meeting this month.
Van Hoose said a feeding ban would do nothing to control the feral-cat population. The only way to effectively do that, she said, is to trap cats, neuter or spay them, and then return them to the neighborhood. And the only way to trap a cat is to routinely and properly feed it.
“For me, not allowing anyone to care for the cats is cruel,” said Van Hoose, a retiree from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and a longtime animal advocate and volunteer. “If we stop feeding them and looking out for them, we will have more cats, and the ones we have will just be sicker.”
After hearing testimonials from Van Hoose and others, and listening to reports from two volunteer organizations that run active trap-neuter/spay-return programs (commonly called TNR programs) for feral cats in central and western Ohio, the Urbana council decided to put the legislation on hold.
That doesn’t mean the idea is being abandoned, however. Council President Marty Hess said he will form a committee to look at the issue. He said neither he nor the council is against cats. The suggested ordinance, he pointed out, mentioned deer and geese, too.
“We have deer just cruising down the streets of Urbana,” Hess said.
He said that even though Champaign County, which includes Urbana and is about an hour west of Columbus in western Ohio, is rural, the deer aren’t invading the city on their own. “We realized we have people putting out salt licks and buckets of corn. That’s a different story.”
Hess said the idea was to address all wildlife and feral animals at once.
The proposed ordinance, as it was written, would have made it a minor misdemeanor (punishable by a $20 fine, Hess said) to keep, harbor or feed outdoor animals running at large.
Rebecca Hoffman is a friend of Van Hoose’s and a longtime volunteer and advocate with a Springfield-based organization, CALICO TNR. Hoffman once helped round up more than 100 cats at a Champaign County trailer park and take them to a clinic to be fixed.
In the past year, councils in the western Ohio cities of Bellefontaine in Logan County and Vandalia in Montgomery County proposed feeding/sheltering bans similar to the one Urbana debated, Hoffman said. She helped to fight both. Although Vandalia passed regulations to control some wildlife, there were exceptions for cats. Now, TNR programs are underway in both those cities.
“If you have a deer problem, address the deer. If you have a goose problem, address the geese,” Hoffman said. “If you don’t want so many cats around, help us with our TNR project. It works.”