Joy Mattice said she fed stray cats in north Minneapolis for 50 years before getting charged for the illegal activity last summer. Her friend, Susan Szykulski, was arrested in December for the same offense.

Both said they acted as caretakers for the cats because they feared Minneapolis Animal Care and Control would catch the animals and euthanize them — the fate of about 270 cats deemed unsuitable as pets in 2012, according to the city.

But City Council Member Cam Gordon wants to scrap the catch and euthanize program in favor of a trap, neuter- or spay-and-release approach, similar to what St. Paul does, saying it is more humane and effective in controlling the stray cat population.

St. Paul started allowing nonprofits to trap, neuter or spay and release feral cats in 2007. Since 2006, the city has seen a 26 percent decrease in the number of cats impounded.

Mike Fry, the executive director at Animal Ark, a no-kill animal shelter that sterilizes and releases feral cats in St. Paul, said it’s time for a change in Minneapolis, because euthanasia hasn’t solved the feral cat problem.

“They’ve been killing cats in Minneapolis for 125 years, and the problem is getting worse, not better,” he said.

Euthanasia more costly

To catch the cats, the ban on ground feeding and trapping that got Mattice and Szykulski in trouble would be lifted. People would be able to apply for a trap and legally feed the felines before bringing them to a nonprofit for sterilization.

Gordon said nonprofits such as the Minnesota Spay Neuter Assistance Program would provide the necessary veterinary work at a low cost. The group already provides free spay and neuter services for pets of eligible owners in parts of north Minneapolis.

Dana Andresen, executive director of the program, known as MN SNAP, said spaying or neutering a cat rather than euthanizing it can save money. She said spaying or neutering at MN SNAP typically costs $40 to $50 per cat, while euthanasia elsewhere can cost as much as $100.

Fry said Animal Ark has sterilized hundreds of colonies of strays in Minnesota and, in nearly all of them, the population has become more manageable.

Feeding attracts rodents

Yet some studies of feral-cat management indicate that trap, neuter and release programs aren’t effective in controlling populations, said Grant Sizemore, program officer for the American Bird Conservancy.

“Some of us might call it trap, neuter and re-abandon,” he said.

Feral cats can wreak havoc on an ecosystem, he said. They should be brought to shelters and put in enclosed areas to solve the problem, or, as a last resort, should be humanely euthanized. Cat owners should keep their pets inside, he said.

Cat lovers such as Mattice couldn’t bear to see homeless cats taken in and euthanized, which is why, she said, she’s spent thousands of dollars of her own money over the years on getting cats sterilized. She was charged last summer with ground feeding.

The city frowns upon ground feeding, as do some neighbors who say it attracts more strays as well as such other undesirable animals as rodents.

“It can cause serious livability and health issues in a neighborhood,” said Matt Lindstrom, a spokesman for the city.

Jeff Skrenes, who lives in and blogs about north Minneapolis, said he knew of neighbors and friends who complained about the ground feeding.

“When the cats weren’t eating the food, it would draw raccoons, squirrels and other critters,” he said.

Skrenes said Mattice was known as the neighborhood “cat lady.” While she was trying to do a good thing, he said, she should respect other people’s property.

“If she were to just have a bunch of cat food on the ground on her own property I’d feel better about it,” Skrenes said. Mattice lives in Plymouth, but said she owns property in Minneapolis.

Misplaced priorities?

Mattice said the people who abandon their pets are the villains. The city’s crackdown on caretakers such as herself is an example of misplaced priorities, she said.

“There are so many shootings, murders and drug dealing in Minneapolis, but they harass me to death because I feed cats?” she said.

Gordon said he hopes the adoption of a spay- or neuter-and-release approach similar to St Paul’s would help discourage reckless caretakers, and more regulation of ground feeding can help thin stray cat populations while attracting fewer rodents and other animals.

“It will give us the potential to control the practices more so there will be less vermin and undesirable creatures,” he said.


Brian Arola is a University of Minnesota student on assignment to the Star Tribune.