Rabbits and doggies and cats - oh my!
Somebody dumped a breeding pair of domestic rabbits on the east side of Helper months ago, and guess what? There are now about ten of them out there, according to mayor Dean Armstrong.
There's more. Feral cats are now living in self-sustaining colonies around town. "They're mangy, they're diseased and they're mean," Armstrong continued, "and they scare little kids."
"The smell is deplorable," commented a member of the audience at Thursday's council meeting who noted that some people whose homes abut alleyways cannot open windows and doors.
Stray dogs are also a problem, but not as big a hassle as cats.
The situation of quadrupeds returning to nature is not unique to Helper. A 2002 study in Wisconsin estimated that domestic and feral cats killed 39 million songbirds in that state alone. And during the last session of the Utah Legislature, Rep. Curtis Oda (R-Clearfield) introduced a bill that would have made it legal to shoot animals deemed to be feral, or kill them in some other humane way. That bill made it out of the House but died in the Senate.
No one on the Helper council recommended declaring open season on stray pets within city limits. However, coming up with a solution that will work is not as simple as pulling a trigger, and the council is not about to shoot from the hip on an issue that has raised strong emotions at earlier discussions.
There appears to be no single option that would be a cure-all.
Trapping, for example, raises issues of neighborhood disputes because cat lovers resent having their pets captured and hauled off to the animal shelter. Not only that, but trapping really doesn't do much to reduce the feral population once it is reproducing on its own.
Armstrong explained that the wild cat population will grow until it reaches the limits of the food supply. Take one cat away, and another one will take its place until it reaches the limits of the food supply. Take one cat away, and another one will take its place until food becomes the limiting factor.
That Malthusian situation, however, assumes that the population is reproducing. Sterile cats and dogs, wild or domestic, cannot reproduce.
Councilman Chris Pugliese suggested one answer to the problem: "If it (a pet) is not sterile, it has to be confined. There's no other way to solve it," he declared.
On the other hand, one member of the audience, Darrin Teply, suggested that the city might launch an "adopt a colony" program, in which cats would be captured, sterilized, and released.
Cats do kill mice, Teply reminded the council, so ridding the city of loose cats might cause an unintended problem.
Mayor Armstrong considers the cat situation to be two-fold, meaning that there may have to be two solutions whichever way the city decides to go.
The domestic cat problem is different in that these animals have owners who care for them. But since these loved animals aren't easy to confine, they cause problems when they get out.
The feral cats are completely out of control, so the city cannot deal with their owners as it can with household pets.
Armstrong and the council view this matter as a public health and safety concern.
However, while the city has ordinances on the books, it has no funds for a full-time animal control officer. Police are busy with two-legged offenders and may not have time to track down four-legged escapees as a priority.