Richland County takes step to fix ordinance that's killing cats

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Some days, Belinda Beese spends more time with cats than she does with humans.

On Wednesday, her office was a rural neighborhood off Calks Ferry Road in Pelion. Her mission, as usual, was trapping a colony of feral cats.

"I will be so happy if she goes in," she whispered as a Calico kitten inched toward an open trap. "Most calicos are girls."

Pawmetto Lifeline has tasked Beese with capturing unspayed and unneutered feral cats all over the Midlands.

"I think we're doing around 50 TNR surgeries a week," Beese said.

TNR is an acronym Beese uses a lot. It stands for trap, neuter, and return (or release).

Beese - and her corps of volunteers - must trap the feral cats, neuter or spay them, and return them to where she found them so they can humanely live out the rest of their lives without reproducing.

Columbia, West Columbia, and Lexington County have TNR programs. As of about half-a-year ago, Richland County does, too. However, Beese says there's a problem with Richland County's TNR program.

Just one small sentence in the ordinance that established the program allows nearby property owners to refuse a cat's release, and it allows county staff to relocate the cats instead.

"There's not anywhere to relocate cats," Beese said plainly.

As a result, Beese and others say Richland's ordinance is sending feral cats to the city shelter where many of them are euthanized.

"There have been roughly 400 cats that have been euthanized, and I think that is indicative of a change that's needed," said Councilman Seth Rose in a Tuesday night meeting.

In that meeting, Rose and others pushed to fix that problem. They put their support behind an amendment, authored by Councilman Greg Pearce, that would strike the problematic sentence from the TNR ordinance.

Beese and her boss, Pawmetto Lifeline CEO Denise Wilkinson, were both at the meeting to champion the change.

"Please amend your current language by removing the relocation option," Wilkinson pleaded to the council.

There was resistance. Three councilmembers - Bill Malinowski, Gwendolyn Kennedy, and Yvonne McBride - voted against Pearce's amendment. Kennedy argued that the concept of trap-neuter-return doesn't make sense and puts animals' rights over humans'.

"That's the same as my bringing my pet monkey back and sitting him in your yard and he doesn't belong to you because he wandered over there," she said in the meeting.

However, with eight votes in the affirmative, the amendment passed its first reading before the council. It requires two more. Beese hopes it'll happen. Trap-neuter-return and don't trap-neuter-kill, she says.

"Cats dying for no reason – healthy cats – it's just not acceptable," Beese said. "To me, it's a waste of taxpayers' money."

Wednesday,  Councilman Rose also added a separate amendment that would educate property owners about how the program will eventually pay off in the long run. The long-term goal is to reduce the feral cat populations, Rose explained.

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