Kuby’s $148K animal-welfare plan, mostly for feral cats, raises concerns

Large groups of homeless cats are becoming common throughout Tempe, where Councilmember Lauren Kuby plans to propose spending $148,000 on an animal-welfare program. –Wrangler News file photo

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By Tony Gutiérrez, wranglernews.com

Tempe City Councilmember Lauren Kuby remembers smelling a strong odor in one of the neighborhoods while knocking on doors during the 2018 city elections.

She learned from a resident that the smell came from feral cats that had marked the territory.

“I’ve become more and more aware of this issue as time has gone on,” Kuby said.

Since 2017, Kuby has served on the Animal Welfare Working Group, whose duties moved to the City Council’s new Sustainable and Livable Communities Committee, which Kuby co-chairs with Councilmember Jennifer Adams.

Among issues being tackled by the committee is feral cats, and whether approving an allocation of $148,000 to address the problem is justifiable during coming budget-study sessions.

Tempe City Council member Lauren Kuby

One solution being considered is the city hiring an animal-welfare coordinator, who would serve as a liaison to all of the city’s departments for animal-related issues, from the feral-cat situation to urban wildlife, such as javelina herds or barking-dog noise complaints.

“There’s a lot of departments that touch on animal issues in some way, but there’s not professional animal expertise that will holistically look at animal welfare or the human-animal connection,” Kuby said. “We have an education liaison. We have a sustainability liaison. This person would be a primary point of contact (and) advise the council and city manager.”

Others, including Tempe Vice Mayor Randy Keating, are concerned about the costs associated with creating a new staff position. While he said he values the city’s Trap, Neuter and Release program and hopes to see it continue, he plans to oppose the new-position proposal.

“It’s safe to say every member of the Tempe City Council supports animal welfare and values the TNR program,” Keating said in an email. “That being said, we are currently in a budget crunch due to COVID-19, and we still have 50 frozen staff positions left unfilled and hundreds of part-time employees who were laid off at the start of the pandemic.

“I’m not convinced a director-level position, created outside of the normal budget process, is the most cost-effective way to ensure our wonderful TNR efforts continue.”

Kuby pointed out that the position would be manager level, not director level, and that she plans to offer several proposals for the council to consider, including looking into ways to fund the position with outside support.

Tempe Vice Mayor Randy Keating

“I think everyone’s an animal lover,” Kuby said. “I think people see the value of this, it’s just we have to figure out a creative way to fund it in a time when there’s a lot of needs in the community right now.

“We have to see if we want to put staff on this very successful program. I respect that the Council has to consider a lot of variables.”

Kuby believes that her conversations with residents during her door-to-door visits provided insight into a problem that recent figures indicate has worsened.

Kuby credited resident Megan Rakaric’s first-hand experience with feral cats with raising awareness that something should be done.

Even though Rakaric said she has no ill-will toward cats — she’d probably own one if she wasn’t allergic to them, she added — cats urinate on her outside furniture and leave feces for her two elderly dogs to ingest.

“With senior dogs, you get extra vet visits, medicines to help clear their systems, special diets to help get them back on track. It’s not something they shake off quickly,” Rakaric said. “My dogs have been sick several times from that, and they’re old, and I worry that one of the times they’re not going to recover.”

There are times, Rakaric says, when she won’t open the windows because the odor is so pungent.

She’s says that she tore out landscaping in her yard because cats were using it as their personal litter box. She started wearing masks outside before the pandemic.

Rakaric said that, while she isn’t opposed to the existence of feral-cat colonies, she wishes that her neighbors that have been feeding and caring for them would take the extra step to spay and neuter them to prevent overpopulation.

“I have to assume when I see the cats running around that are considered to be feral and their ears are not clipped, that they’re not fixed, and that’s the majority of what I see in my neighborhood,” Rakaric said. “There are people out there in the community who are doing a great job trying to keep this population in check, but there’re others who are working against them, whether consciously or not.”

Fix.Adopt.Save, an initiative of Valley animal-welfare groups, has partnered with Tempe since March of last year on Trap, Neuter and Release to curtail the feral-cat population, said project manager Sonja Hernandez. FAS provides support for mobile events sponsored by the city.

Tempe partners with Fix.Adopt.Save, an initiative of Valley animal-welfare groups, on the Trap, Neuter and Release program to curtail the feral-cat population. –Wrangler News file photo

“It’s easy to partner with them with the program being managed as well as it is,” Hernandez said. “It’s focused to neighborhoods, it’s providing a solution to the community, while also educating on multiple aspects of the feral cats in the community.”

Because the weather in the Valley doesn’t trigger hibernation as in other parts of the state or country, cats reproduce throughout the year, Hernandez said, noting that one female cat can produce as many as  three litters per year.

In Trap, Neuter and Release, residents trap the cats and bring them to the mobile veterinary clinic, where a veterinarian and technicians, facilitated through FAS, perform spaying or neutering.

After being held for a couple of nights to ensure that there are no complications, the cats are returned to their colonies.

“The city of Tempe is the only city that we’re doing this type of program with,” Hernandez said. “That is because of how well managed their program is and what they’re seeking to accomplish.”

So far through TNR, 381 feral cats have been spayed or neutered, according to reports. Kuby, herself, has participated. She helped her neighbor trap eight cats the week of April 11.

While she expected that trapping cats would involve chasing them with a net, the trap is a simple cage with papers and food on the floor that triggers the door to close when the cat comes in, she said.

The city has invested in 100 traps for residents to use and FABRIC has donated trap covers to calm down the felines.

“I love my neighbor, he’s such a caring person, but I also have a husband who’s not too happy about having cats eating the vegetable garden,” Kuby said. “My neighbor is happy to take care of them, but he doesn’t want them to have babies. He was delighted to have help. We gathered and set them out at night, and every hour we caught more.”

Part of cat-colony management is education, Kuby said, and organizing colony caregivers into communities to assist each other.

Caregivers are asked to keep a database of their colonies, and to have a set coordinated feeding time so the cats don’t wander from home to home looking for more food. Having the community involved allows caregivers to take care of each other’s colonies so that others can take vacations.

“There was one gentleman who didn’t understand why we returned the cats. To manage the colony is to manage the actual colony, and you have to treat it as a colony. By the end, he offered to build a community feeding station,” said Kuby.

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