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Hudson considering program to spay and neuter feral cats

The Hudson City Council is exploring a program that would trap feral cats, spay or neuter them, and return them to the spot where they were captured.

Tanya Borg, a Centuria resident and head of an organization called Farm Feral Stray, presented the program to the City Council Monday night.

The plan is to trap a colony of wild housecats living in the storm sewers next to a drainage pond behind the Hanley Place Apartments on Hanley Road.

Once the cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated, the organization would set up shelters for them to live in, and arrange for volunteers to feed the cats.

“People in our communities believe cats deserve to live,” Borg told the council.

After considerable discussion, the council referred the proposal back to the Public Safety Committee. Council members also asked City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick to continue to study the issue and draft a potential agreement between the city and Farm Feral Stray.

“It’s a problem,” Munkittrick agreed regarding the cats running loose in the city. She said Police Chief Marty Jensen shares the opinion.

Apparently, residents of Hanley Place have been feeding the cats behind the apartment complex for a period of about eight years. The size of the colony has grown to about 30 cats.

While some apartment dwellers enjoy the cats, other people view them as a nuisance. The cats are said to hide out under and climb on cars in the apartment building’s parking lot.

Borg estimated that there are 800 feral cats living in Hudson and North Hudson. A letter that Borg and Hudson resident Angela Fellrath addressed to the city Public Safety Committee said there are roughly 18,000 free-roaming cats in St. Croix County.

Borg told the City Council there are 1.4 million feral cats in Wisconsin.

She said Hudson has several colonies of feral cats, including one located around the apartment buildings on Aspen Drive and another in the alley between First and Second streets in downtown Hudson.

“We need to stop this,” Borg said.

She said trapping and killing cats isn’t humane or effective, because other feral cats will simply move into the vacant territory and breed. By spaying and neutering the cats and putting kittens that can be tamed up for adoption, the size of the colonies will gradually be reduced, she said.

Borg said Farm Feral Spray, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, currently manages six cat colonies in five counties -- St. Croix, Polk, Burnett, Washburn and Barron. The organization has spayed or neutered 450 cats and placed about 45 in adoptive homes, she said.

Public Safety Committee Chairperson Mary Yacoub said she and Council President Rich Vanselow were both skeptical when the program was proposed to the committee. (The third committee member, Alderperson John Hoggatt, wasn’t at the meeting.)

Borg’s presentation changed her mind, Yacoub indicated.

“I think it is a very well thought-out program that could be a benefit to the city at no cost,” Yacoub said Monday night.

City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick raised several issues concerning the proposal.

She noted that the City Code prohibits people from harboring unlicensed cats and dogs, and allowing them to run loose in the city.

In a memo to Mayor Alan Burchill and the City Council, Munkittrick said the city should require Farm Feral Spray to provide proof of liability insurance if does agree to allow the organization to conduct the program.

The city should also require anyone involved in conducting the program to sign a waiver releasing the city from all responsibility for any injuries or damages they sustain, she said.

Community Development Director Dennis Darnold cautioned that the storm water pond where the organization wants to trap the feral cats has rough terrain and steep slopes. Also, volunteers would have to cross private property to get to the city property, Darnold said.

Paramedics denied raise

The council on a 4-3 voted denied St. Croix EMS Chief Kim Eby’s appeal for a raise of 14 cents per hour for the ambulance service’s four full-time paramedics.

The increase would have been in addition to the 2 percent raise for all city employees included in the 2014 budget.

Eby said the increase is needed to give the paramedics a wage comparable to what paramedics for neighboring ambulance services earn.

Mayor Alan Burchill said it was late in the budget cycle for Eby to be asking for the wage increase.

“There isn’t a department chair in this city that doesn’t think their employees should have more money,” the mayor added during a Finance Committee discussion of the request.

The Finance Committee deadlocked 2-2 on the issue, with Alderperson Lori Bernard also opposing the raise.

Council President Rich Vanselow and Alderperson Randy Morrissette II supported it.

Vanselow said he didn’t have a problem with setting a proper base for paramedic pay.

Morrissette noted that there is money for the increase (a total of $1,400 over a year’s time) in the St. Croix EMS budget. The ambulance service generates its own revenue, Morrissette added.

The full council also was evenly divided on the issue, with alderpersons Bernard, Mary Yacoub and Kurt TeWinkel opposing the pay increase and Vanselow, Morrissette and John Hoggatt voting for it.

Mayor Burchill’s opposing vote broke the tie.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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