ROCKWOOD (WATE) - The city of Rockwood is taking an unusual step to control the number of feral or stray cats inside city limits.
The City Council passed the first draft of an ordinance last week that would regulate the problem and make tougher penalties for property owners who abandon cats.
The feral cat ordinance establishes definitions of a feral cat and cat colonies.
Cat colonies are what the ordinance calls "more than five free roaming cats."
"The cats are just running lose and they're having babies everywhere," said Wanda Treadwell, a Rockwood resident.
Wanda Treadwell has lived happily in her Rockwood home for 25 years, but lately, she's fed up. Her next door neighbor moved out a year ago, leaving behind a mess, and nearly a half-dozen cats.
Treadwell sees many of them wandering around her yard, with nobody to take care of them.
"Those cats are starving to the death over there, and they're not being fed, and they're just left to fend for themselves, nobody to take care of them," Treadwell said.
Treadwell is one of several residents who have complained to city officials about hoards of stray cats spotted throughout the city.
Normally, the city's animal control would handle the problem but animal control has no authority to remove the cats from abandoned property. Officials hope the new feral cat ordinance will fix this.
"What we're trying to do is take those cats that live in an inhuman situation who have to get out here and fend for themselves," said Rockwood Mayor James Watts.
The ordinance would allow animal control to enter properties, set traps, catch the animals, and take them back to the shelter if a cat is roaming found freely off the owner's property.
The ordinance also states no person shall keep or maintain more than 5 animals, including, but not limited to cats, without being approved and registered as a kennel operating in a commercial zone. Any resident having five or more cats is considered a kennel.
"It's an effort to add to and strengthen the laws on the books," said Watts.
It would also take a tougher stance on properties with cat colonies.
Animal control could file abatements notices on a renter or owner who has cat colonies running at large. The notice would give the owner or renter of the property the right to dispose of the cats within a specific period of time.
If the abatement is not done, a municipal court could make owners pay for removal costs, court costs and fines. A court could demand a property be repaired or brought up to date with current building standards.
Officials call it a two prong solution because of the city's problem with blighted properties.
"What we're trying to do is put the burden back on the back on the individuals that own this property, and does not take care of it," said Watts.
Mayor Watts says the five cat limit is an arbitrary number, and it could be changed as council members work out details on the second and final reading of this ordinance.
The vote will take place during city council's next meeting on February 25.