New Summit County program allows residents to set up community cat colonies |

New Summit County program allows residents to set up community cat colonies

Caretakers would be responsible for ensuring animals are vaccinated and sterilized

Pamela Manson
For The Park Record
Michelle McDonald, right, weighs Goldie, a rescue cat, at the Nuzzles and Co. Rescue Ranch in 2018. The nonprofit is one of the organizations that proposed a new Summit County pilot program that will allow residents to care for stray “community cats.”
Park Record file photo

The Summit County Council has given the go-ahead for a pilot program that will allow residents to take care of feral and stray “community cats” in their neighborhoods.

Local animal rescue groups Nuzzles and Co. and the Humane Society of Utah proposed the program as a humane way to manage these cat populations, as well as protect the community against unsterilized, unvaccinated cats. Summit County receives on average of about 380 cats a year in its shelter from residents who trap or surrender them or from animal control traps, which are placed at the request of the property owner, according to a staff report.

The Utah Legislature passed a bill in 2011 that authorized counties and cities to permit community cats. The Summit County code needed to be changed before the pilot program could be implemented.

Under the program, free-roaming unowned cats that live outdoors have sponsors who are responsible for getting them sterilized, vaccinated against rabies and ear-tipped. Sponsors can be individuals or an animal rescue group or humane society.

Ear tipping is removal of about a quarter of an inch of the tip of cats’ left ear while they are anesthetized for sterilization. The procedure allows animal control officers to tell from a distance that the cats have been fixed and vaccinated.

The cats then are returned to where they were found originally and a community cat caretaker provides food, water and shelter to a feline or a colony of them.

Proponents of community cat programs say they help keep euthanasia rates down, lead to fewer cats entering and burdening shelters and reduce the outdoor cat population, according to a presentation earlier this year by county staffers. The cons include the difficulty of administering booster rabies vaccines and the killing of birds and the threat posed to protected wildlife by the cats.

The Summit County program requires caregivers, who are not considered the animals’ owner, to pay a permit fee of $50 to have a cat colony. Anyone who has a history of animal abuse or neglect is prohibited from being a community cat sponsor or caregiver.

The pilot program will be in effect through Dec. 31, 2023.

“We will collect data through this program and then come back before it expires and see what you want to do next based what we learned from this experience,” Deputy County Manager Janna Young told the council members.

The program was approved on a 4-0 vote at a Nov. 17 meeting, with Council Chair Glenn Wright abstaining.

Wright said he’s not against the program but that he was unable to attend an earlier work session when the program was discussed in much more detail.

“I didn’t want to vote against it,” he said. “I’m certainly willing to go along with the pilot plan to see how it works.”

Neighbors will be informed about any proposed cat colony within 1,000 feet of their property but their approval is not required. However, they can appeal a decision by the animal control director to award a permit for a certain location to the county manager.

The Humane Society of the United States says tens of millions of unowned cats in the nation live outdoors and usually rely on people to provide them with food and shelter. Approximately 2% of these feral and stray felines have been spayed or neutered, the society says.

To view the staff report regarding the program, click here.

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