The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc.

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The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. P.O. Box 24020, Los Angeles, California , Tel (310) October 1, 2012 Councilmember Paul Kortez, Chair Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee City of Los
The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. P.O. Box 24020, Los Angeles, California , Tel (310) October 1, 2012 Councilmember Paul Kortez, Chair Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee City of Los Angeles Re: Item 4, October 2, 2012, Council File Dear Councilmember Koretz, Please find attached comments from The Urban Wildlands Group regarding the use of funds from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to perform CEQA analysis on the proposed Cat Program for the City that were submitted when this item was heard by the Board of Animal Services Commissioners. Even though the definition of the Cat Program is not included in your current action, the comments are relevant to your Committee s decision. We note that the Animal Welfare Trust Fund is restricted to support of existing programs of the City. The Cat Program, in that it includes the implementation of support and/or facilitation of trap-neuter-return (TNR) for feral cats, is not an existing program of the City. This fact was affirmed by Judge McKnew in the case The Urban Wildlands Group v. City of Los Angeles. It would therefore appear to be an inappropriate use of monies donated to this trust fund to pay for CEQA analysis for this new program. Please also consider the scientific information in the attached letter, which explains why the proposed Cat Program is neither in the best interest of the City nor consistent with the City s responsibility to maintain public health and safety and the environment. This program should be reconceived before funds are wasted reviewing it under CEQA. I have also attached a very recent peer-reviewed scientific article reviewing the public health impacts of feral cats, which notes the ineffectiveness of trap-neuter-return at controlling feral cats and their impacts. Sincerely, Travis Longcore, Ph.D. Science Director The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. P.O. Box 24020, Los Angeles, California , Tel (310) August 13, 2012 Board of Commissioners Department of Animal Services City of Los Angeles 221 N. Figueroa Street, 5th Floor Los Angeles, CA Re: Authorization to use $52,000 from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to Pay for the Preparation of an Environmental Clearance Regarding LA Animal Services Proposed Cat Program Dear Commissioners: The Urban Wildlands Group was the lead plaintiff with five other conservation groups in the 2008 lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles that revealed that your Department was surruptitiously implementing a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program for feral cats prior to proper environmental review and resulting in the current injunction blocking the City from further TNR supporting actions until and unless proper review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is undertaken. We are therefore interested in providing comments on this item. Your Department did not, however, provide the Board Report for this item to us (even though we are on record as an interested party) and we only became aware of it last Thursday, giving very little time to formulate and draft a response. The item before you appears to have two parts. First is the authorization of use of funds from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund to do environmental analysis. Second is the adoption of a project description not previously discussed by the Commission that contains a range of proposed changes in policy regarding cats, and especially regarding stray and feral cats. Use of Animal Welfare Trust Fund for Core Administrative Expense Is Inappropriate It is not immediately obvious that environmental compliance is an appropriate use of funds from the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. On the Department s website, you solicit donations to this fund with the following description of uses: Your donation to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund will be used to enhance the quality of life for shelter animals by funding animal supplies, medical equipment or services and other improvements to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. These funds also assist with expenditures related to the foster program and special medical treatment that may be outside the scope of day-to-day shelter care. 1 It would seem that people 1 August 13, 2012 Page 2 of 10 donate to this fund to help animals in shelters, and not to facilitate the reabandonment and feeding of feral cats. This Board recently accepted a donation of $41, from the Estate of Marie Elizabeth Tyner to the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. Ms. Tyner gave equal shares of her estate to American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, and your Animal Welfare Trust Fund. It seems hard to believe that she intended for her entire donation to be used to undertake an environmental review that is rightly a core administrative function of the Department, rather than be used to enhance the quality of life of shelter animals as she would have been led to believe by the Department s description of the uses of the fund. Should Ms. Tyner s executor learn of this use of the funds, he or she might have a cause of action against the City for the misappropriation of the bequest. If she intended for the money to go to policy changes for feral cats, there are any number of other organizations to which she might have bequeathed her estate. Development of policy and compliance with relevant environmental laws is a core administrative function of a City department. It is highly inappropriate to misdirect gifts intended for other purposes to subsidize core administrative functions. Board Report Omits Results of Initial Scoping for TNR Program In the history leading up to the proposed project description, the Board Report for this item recounts a stakeholder survey that was undertaken by the department on a proposed TNR program for feral cats. Apparently the Department received a report summarizing the responses to this survey in November 2011, but this report is not available on the Department s website, nor is it attached to the current item. This is a rather remarkable omission, since the responses to the survey should have been used to inform the project description now being proposed. In particular, the Commission should have been made aware that the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health submitted comments that indicated their position that TNR was not an effective means to control feral cats, writing: The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is especially concerned that this current proposal not only ignores the presence of feral cat colonies throughout the city, but exempts them from specific code enforcement. In the absence of regulation, this action appears to encourage the establishment of more feral cat colonies in residential neighborhoods, retail centers, on school, college, and hospital campuses, parks, beaches and highly sensitive sites such as natural wildlife areas. The Cat Program that this Board is now being asked to approve specifically exempts feral cat feeders from code enforcement, contrary to the position of public health officials. Since the Department has not provided this letter, it is attached in full. Incidentally, several feral cat activists and organizations also submitted responses to the survey in which they essentially argued that it should be legal to feed feral cats anywhere and on any property and without limitation and this new program does essentially that. Why does the current proposal include elements to legalize TNR and feral cat feeding in response to extreme August 13, 2012 Page 3 of 10 feral cat activists, while completely ignoring the opinion of public health officials and conservation organiztions? Proposed Cat Program Is Mostly a Stray and Feral Cat Program The proposed program confuses issues of the well being and maintenance of pet cats with the problem of stray and feral cats in the City. Most of the elements of the Cat Program explicitly have to do with stray and feral cats, with the exception of the increase in the number of cats allowed without a cat kennel license from 3 to 5. The cat limit increase is inappropriate to include here, since this controversial proposal, already approved by this Board, is currently before the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. The definition of cat kennel is a planning and zoning issue and should it be approved by the appropriate committee, and would be subject to CEQA review on its own. The proposal exempts feral cats from the limit anyway, so there is no connection between the increase in the pet limit for cats and the rest of the proposal. Project Goals Abandon Public Health and Wildlife The main goal of any Cat Program should be to reduce the number of stray and feral cats in the City. Yet, this is not even listed as a project goal. The goals are to increase spay/neuter of cats, reduce the euthanasia of cats, accommodate the maintenance and improved management of stray and feral cats, support the public in addressing nuisance issues with cats, and promote education about cat-related issues. By accepting and essentially promoting the feeding and care of stray and feral cats, the Board will contradict existing advice from public health officials and abandon the goal of reducing the number of stray and feral cats in the City. Project Elements Are Ill-defined and Uneccessary Use of Spay/Neuter Trust Fund for stray and feral cats by changing the word pet to animal in the relevant code This change appears to be made to allow these funds to be used for stray and feral cats. Given that the City has mandatory spay/neuter for pet cats and cost is still a barrier to compliance, it does not make sense to now divert these funds to feral and stray cats. Rent or lend traps for TNR This element contains language stating that traps will be avaiable for nuisance abatement. This is already City policy and does not need to be included in this program or reviewed. The only change here is that traps will be made available for the purpose of TNR and so this should be identified as the change that will be analyzed. Release cats to animal rescue and adoption organizations per State law This proposed project element does not appear to recognize that State law treats feral cats differently from pet or stray cats. The Food and Agriculture Code gives an animal rescue or adoption organization the right to adopt stray cats before they are euthanized (Sec ). August 13, 2012 Page 4 of 10 Feral cats are governed by a different provision (Sec ). If a cat is thought to be feral it has to be held for three days during which it can be redeemed, but only by its owner. Then, after a temperament test, if the cat is truly feral, the cat may be euthanized or relinquished to a nonprofit, as defined in Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, animal adoption organization. Note that the text is permissive ( may be released or euthanized ), giving local jurisdictions a choice to release a feral cat; this does not create an obligation to release a feral cat unless redeemed by its owner or caretaker. Also note that the cat can only be released to an animal adoption organization, not an animal rescue organization. TNR groups cannot be construed to be adoption organizations if they are to release a feral cat back outside. The City and any new program should be clear that feral cats can only be released to be adopted, or back to their owners or caretakers as defined by State law. The project description should accurately reflect State law and the different treatment between stray and feral cats in it. It furthermore should acknowledge that there is no obligation to release feral cats to nonprofits, and then only to adoption groups and not so-called rescue groups that release the animal back outside instead of adopting to a home. Increase cat limit from three to five As noted above, this element of the project has already been approved by the Board, but met with considerable resistence, and is awaiting action elsewhere in City government. It should not be included in the current proposal and environmental review; the pet limit increase would need its own environmental review. Amend code to define a cat colony The proposed project description contains this definition: For the purposes of this section, Colony shall mean a geographic location not in or adjacent to a public park or Sensitive Environmental Area where stray or feral cats typically live and/or where they forage or hunt for food, or are fed and generally cared for by individuals volunteering as Caregivers, also commonly referred to as Caretakers. Presumably this definition is meant to prescribe where it is acceptable to feed feral cats by defining colonies as some place that is not in or adjacent to a public park or Sensitive Environmental Area. The first problem is that Sensitive Environmental Area is not defined in the Municipal Code. Does the Department mean the Significant Ecological Areas defined by the County of Los Angeles? What about adjacent to schools? What about on private property with public access (e.g., shopping centers)? What about alleys behind homes? Behind businesses? Next to water reservoirs? Next to rivers and streams? Next to certified backyard wildlife habitats? How about on private property not owned by the person feeding the cats? Does the City intend to define and exempt from regulation activities that are taking place on all public and private land that is not in or adjacent to a public park of Sensitive Environmental Area? This would represent a dramatic erosion of private property rights and abdication of public safety that should be considered carefully by this Board before spending animal welfare money to evaluate under CEQA. August 13, 2012 Page 5 of 10 It also bears noting that cats do not occur in groups ( colonies ) unless there is already a food source, so the colonies being defined here are the result of either poor hygeine (e.g., accessible garbage) or intential feeding of outdoor cats. The congration of domestic cats in such so-called colonies is caused entirely by humans. Exempt feral cat feeders at cat colonies from the prohibition on feeding nondomesticated mammalian predators, provided the cat is sterilized This is not particularly well thought out. How in the world would such a change be enforced? How would someone put out food and then exclude non-sterilized cats? It has been reported on social media that some feral cat enthusiasts tip the ears of cats they feed without sterilizing them to minimize the likelihood of their capture, so visual inspection is inadequate. The proviso that the cats be sterilized is utterly unenforceable, and in fact feeding is necessary to trap a cat for any purpose. Furthermore, does this then allow anyone feeding cats in a colony to violate other code sections, such as those prohibiting littering and trespassing? Feeding stray and feral cats makes them reproduce more and especially increases kitten survival rates. Notwithstanding the prohibition (on paper) on feeding non-sterilized cats, they are inevitably fed by those maintaining feral cat colonies and produce kittens which then increase feral cat numbers. Even feeding sterilized cats causes severe nuisance issues, as is unusually well-documented by a series of posts over several years to Internet discussion boards about a situation in Encino. An elderly man, referred to below as Sam (not his real name given in the posts), has for several years reportedly been feeding ~40 cats every night around his apartment complex. The cats are described as being sterilized, yet their presence is clearly offensive to others in the neighborhood. October 2008 A very kind elderly, disabled man in Encino, CA, is desperately trying to get some food to feed 40 cats that come to his apt complex every night. He has no money to buy food, and it is killing him because he hears the starving cats outside his window every night crying from hunger. May 2009 Sorry to bother you again about this, but Sam called me again yesterday, crying, saying he has no more food for the 40 ferals he feeds every day, and no money to get it and that he is soon to be hospitalized. He has some severe medical problems. He claims he can only feed the ferals on his street canned wet food because it gets eaten right away and no traces are left. He needs to do it this way because of the cat haters on the block. If he puts out dry food, some of it is left behind and he is trying to protect himself and the cats. Since the last I sent in October 2008, his colonies have been TNR d so there are no newcomers cropping up, just the intact colonies. October 2009 I have posted out for Sam before and he has received help in the past, but he is in need again. Sam is an elderly, disabled man who lives in an apartment in Encino. He feeds several colonies of cats on his block (cats are TNR d). At some of the locations, cat haters, who have been tormenting Sam for years, are attempting to poison the cats. At these locations, Sam takes canned wet food, mixes it with some dry, balls it up and throws it over to a location that cannot be accessed by anyone except the cats. (I know poisoning animals is illegal and so does August 13, 2012 Page 6 of 10 he, but he cannot post any signs in his area; his life has been threatened before, and his car was totaled by vandals because he feeds the cats, and Sam does not know who is doing it.) December 2009 Sam, the elderly disabled man in Encino has been battling an evil moron apt owner on his block where he feeds several colonies of cats. The cat hater poisoned the cats, Sam called AC [Animal Control], AC sent the man a letter and made him stop, but now he has boarded up the crawl space under his building and the cats are in there and will die a slow and painful death if something is not done and I do not know what to do. I told Sam to call AC again and report this, but this cat hater also vandalized his ex-wife s car, they have no proof but they know it s him. June 2010 I ve sent out this plea about a year ago and I m sending it again. Sam, an elderly, disabled man in Encino, feeds about 40 cats every night on his street. He goes from apartment to apartment late at night under the radar to feed feral cats at each location. He lives on a street filled with cat haters, and he lives with a cat hater (he has no choice due to lack of funds). Because of his devotion to the cats, his life has been threatened, his car has been vandalized to a total loss, and he continues to fight a horrible condo manager across the street who keeps boarding up cats under the building. His colonies have been TNR d, so I told him I would post another plea for him to see if anyone can help him now and then or even with a one-time donation of cat food. Sam has no transportation. July 2011 If anyone can help Sam, please let me know and I'll give you his phone number and/or address. Thanks very much I've sent out pleas for this man before, but he is, once again, in need of WET food, for the approximately 45 feral cats he feeds on his street in Encino. He lives on a street devoted strictly to apt buildings and has been battling cat hating forces for years. Sam has no income and lives with someone that hates cats, so he has to hide everything he does for the cats. Sam is disabled with multiple physical/terminal problems, even walking has become an issue for him. If anyone can donate canned wet food to him, or even a gift card to Petco or Ralphs (they are close by so he can walk with a cart to them; he does not have a car), he would be very appreciative. I cannot help him or pay for any of it out of my own pocket since I have as many cats per day to feed myself (colonies) and do not have the funds to contribute to this. This series of appeals, written from the perspective of someone who thinks that Sam is doing a good thing, reveal several things. First, it is obviously a very sad situation. Second, although all the cats are supposedly sterilized, the number stays stable 40 for years and then appears to increase. Third, those people refered to as cat haters are clearly
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