Cat catching bird

Cats are one of the greatest threats to songbirds, which is part of the reason Hutchinson City Council may continue impounding stray cats picked up by police. Impounding cats doesn’t come cheap for the city, however.

Hutchinson Police Chief Tom Gifferson posed a $10,000 question to members of City Council Tuesday: Should Hutchinson Police Services continue impounding cats?

“We’ve been reviewing all of our expenditures over the past year,” Gifferson said. “We’ve seen that for the past two to three years that this has been a significant expense for the city.”

The current ordinance requires police to take stray cats it picks up or that residents have trapped to Animal Medical Center on Crow River, which acts as the city’s pound. Once there, the animals receive mandatory vaccinations and are held for up to seven days for owners to claim. After seven days, they can be adopted out or placed in shelters.

The problem, however, is that each cat impounded costs about $135. If the owner picks the animal up, they are required to pay a fee to cover the costs. However, most impounded cats are not picked up by owners. According to Gifferson, so far in 2019 the city has impounded 75 cats, and only nine were returned to their owners. That means the city is on the hook for the costs of the rest of the animals, which to date is closing in on $10,000.

To save the city $10,000, Hutchinson Police Services has proposed no longer impounding cats. Gifferson said other cities in the county such as Glencoe and Winsted do not impound cats. If a citizen catches a cat and brings it to law enforcement, they are told to release it.

“If we have nuisance animals, we are still going to address that,” Gifferson said. “So if we have 30 feral cats living under a shed somewhere, we are certainly going to address that. What I’m proposing is the one cat, or a certain citizen trapping cats in his backyard bringing them to us to impound, we would halt that practice.”

The issue is not the same for other animals such as dogs, Gifferson said. This is partly because dogs require fewer vaccinations, and therefore cost less to impound, but also because dogs are more likely to be reunited with their owners.

“The ratio of dogs returned to owners is much greater than the ratio of cats returned to owners,” he said.

According to numbers from City Administrator Matt Jaunich, impounded dogs cost the city $4,200 in 2018, while cats cost $7,500. From January through October this year, dogs have cost the city $2,300 while cats have cost $9,000.

“The city is making a fairly significant payment,” Gifferson said, “and the benefactor is ultimately either the people who are adopting (the cats) or in some cases the agency that is adopting it out.”

The suggested changes to the ordinance would not affect licensing. Cats and dogs would still be required to be licensed, and if the owner of an at-large cat can be identified, they would still be cited. But stray cats would no longer be impounded.

“We still encourage citizens to license their animal or cat, because it’s one of the few ways we have to identify an owner,” Gifferson said.

Council members were undecided on the request. Some felt changing the ordinance on a trial basis would be a good decision, while others were less sure.

“We’ve been used to doing it this way, why not give it a chance to see what happens the other direction?” Council Member Dave Sebesta said.

“My concern is two things: One, we’ll be increasing the number of cats that are loose out there. And then two, cats are one of the biggest predators or issues with songbirds,” Council Member Steve Cook said. “You can look it up and find it in multiple places. For those reasons, I’m in favor of keeping it the way it is, even though it’s expensive.”

“I guess I side with Steve in saying cats are predators of our birds. That’s what cats do,” Council Member Mary Christensen said. “But I also don’t want us to end up with a bunch of feral cats running around our city. We already have a turkey problem, we don’t need a cat problem.”

In the end, it was determined to not act on the issue immediately, but wait to hear public opinion on the matter.

“Let’s find out from the citizens what they really want us to do,” Christensen said.

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