By Stefanie Jackson – A Cape Charles resident let the cat out of the bag again at the May 16 town council meeting when he reported an altercation between himself and another resident, related to a disagreement about the care and treatment of stray cats in the neighborhood, also called community cats.
Brian Martin informed the council that he had a confrontation with Sandy Mayer, the secretary and treasurer of the nonprofit, Eastern Shore Spay Organization (ESSO), while Martin was walking his dog off-leash on Strawberry Street March 24.
Mayer kicked the dog, Martin said. He filed a complaint against Mayer for animal cruelty, and Mayer filed a complaint against him for allowing his dog to run at large. Both were found guilty in Northampton’s general district court May 16.
Martin said the county sheriff informed him that neither extensive obedience training nor use of an electronic training collar justified an exemption from the Cape Charles “leash law.”
Cape Charles’ town code states it is unlawful for an animal “to run at large … off the property of its owner or custodian and not under its owner’s or custodian’s immediate control.”
According to Martin, Mayer testified in court that she “provides the medical care, food, and shelter for all these pets on the property of Mr. Pete Baumann, here in Cape Charles.”
Baumann is ESSO’s president, who once said, “It’s for the cats, not the people.”
Martin asserted that the cats Mayer cares for “are not under her control at all times.”
“I would ask that the town of Cape Charles have the Northampton County Animal Control Officer enforce these laws equal across the board to both dog owners and cat owners,” he said.
According to Chapter 95 of Northampton’s code of ordinances, all cats and dogs owned in the county must be licensed and up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations.
Like the town of Cape Charles, Northampton County has an ordinance prohibiting animals from roaming at large, but it specifically refers to dogs. Cape Charles’ corresponding ordinance is written to “include, but not be limited to, any mammal, bird, or reptile,” which includes cats.
Cape Charles Councilwoman Cela Burge, who is an attorney, offered her interpretation of the local animal ordinances at the Feb. 21 council meeting.
She said community cats are not allowed in Northampton. The county ordinance authorizes an animal control officer “to impound … any dog or cat which does not have a current and valid certificate of rabies vaccination or … has not been licensed.”
Mayor Smitty Dize agreed. He spoke again about community cats at the March 21 town council meeting when he told Mayer that he disagreed with her feeding the cats.
He agreed with Mayer that TNR (trap, neuter, and release) is the best method to control community cat populations. But Dize advised against adding an “F” (for “feed”) to that abbreviation.
“You can’t have the “F” to begin with,” Dize said. “You have to trap them, neuter them, and release them and call it a day and let the cats fend for themselves.”
“They take care of more rodents that way, because they’re not getting fed,” Dize added.
But there won’t be any cats to control the rodent population in Cape Charles if town officials have Northampton County animal control officers impound all the feral felines, or if anyone claims ownership of the cats and provides them with permanent shelter that would prevent them from roaming at large.
On May 16, Burge recommended that one or more town officials such as the mayor, town manager, or police chief meet with Northampton County Sheriff David Doughty to “see if we can work cooperatively with our county to tackle this issue.”
“I think we need to look at it and deal with it and quit talking about it.”