Stray cats at the Lake Shore Estates Mobile Home Park in Mishawaka, Ind., are fortunate to have two allies who care for them and ensure that they receive proper veterinary care.

But unfortunately, Karen Koehler and Martha Paredes’ efforts on the feral felines’ behalf have left them on the wrong side of the law.

Koehler and Paredes take care of a colony of about 16 cats. Working with the Michiana Feral Cat Initiative, they have trapped, neutered and vaccinated the strays. The cats were then “ear tipped” to mark their status and returned to Lake Shore Estates, where they live in colonies managed by the two neighbors.

But local ordinances place a limit of three pets in any household, and someone reported Koehler and Paredes as being in violation of the code.

In April, both women received a notice from the Humane Society. It has been reported that you are over (sic) pet limit with cats and are feeding strays. If you feed strays over 72 hours, you are legally responsible for that animal.

The women were given 48 hours to provide the Humane Society with proof of vaccination and a city license stating that cats “over the age of 12 weeks” were registered. Otherwise, they would have to take the strays to the Humane Society of St. Joseph County.

They told me to get the cats and bring them in to get killed, says Paredes. Im not going to do that.

Statistics show that Paredes’s fear about the cats’ fate is justified. According to Humane Society records, 2,300 cats were taken in at the shelter in 2009. Of those, 216 (9 percent) were adopted out, and the rest were killed.

Paredes and Koehler kept feeding and caring for the cats, even after Koehler received a second notice dated May 10, 2011, that read, Feeding and housing stray cats makes you legally responsible for the cats. Citations can occur if this continues.

Those citations would result in a fee of $25 per unlicensed cat.

These cats are happy, healthy and obviously well fed,” said the MCFI’s Devon Smith. And theyre spayed, neutered and vaccinated, so they cant reproduce. Why should they be taken away to be killed?

Kris Blackmon, community manager at Lake Shore Estates, says the mobile home park is working with MCFI to move the cats out of the park to a new home where they can be cared for and not be a nuisance to other park residents.

An admitted animal lover, Blackmon says she doesn’t want to see the cats “[taken] away to be euthanized.” She also says that it was a neighbor, not the management, that called to report Koehler and Paredes.

But acknowledging code enforcement, Blackmon added, We have to abide by the rules.

When someone calls and says, We have nuisance cats here, … we have to go, said Dr. Carol Ecker, a veterinarian and member of the Humane Society’s board of trustees. We have contracts with the city of Mishawaka and St. Joseph County, [and] this is in the contract.

But since most ferals are not adoptable, Smith says taking the cats to the Humane Society would be a death sentence.

The solution, Smith says, is to spay, neuter and vaccinate the cats, and leave them in a controlled environment with residents who feed them regularly.

From a park management perspective, Blackmon says that the problem is that the cats, most of which were left behind by former owners who moved away, seek shelter underneath the mobile homes.

They get under the homes and tear down the underbelly, Blackmon said. Then we have to replace the whole underbelly.

Relocating the cats to a farm or someplace with property for the cats to roam where they will be taken care of, Blackmon says, is a better solution than hauling them to the Humane Society where statistics indicate most will be destroyed.

Smith says that if the Humane Society is citing residents for feeding and caring for feral cats, that would mean the MFCI is wasting time and effort spaying, neutering and giving cats the necessary shots.

Legally [the Humane Society] is in the right, Smith said. However, “its a matter of inconvenience for these people versus a life. Theres a social contract that youve got to put up with some stuff. Its not our right to kill animals because we dont like the look of them, or we dont like them digging in the yard.

Ecker says it’s important to consider people as well as cats. Its not fair for people living in the area who dont want cats pooping and peeing in their backyard. When we get a call … saying we have cats pooping and peeing in sandboxes and flower boxes, and residents are upset, we have to go.”

Fifteen cats will be taken out of Lake Shore Estates this week, Smith says. But trapping them and taking them out of the park has its own perils. Theres no place for them to go, Smith said. We have a plea out for anybody who has farms thats willing to take responsibility for these cats.

No matter what legal and regulatory troubles they face, Paredes and Koehler say that as long as there are stray and feral cats roaming Lake Shore Estates, they’ll keep taking care of them.

How do you stop feeding them? Koehler asked. They dont understand why theyre not being fed.

[Source: South Bend Tribune]