When Annette Betancourt took action to control the population of feral cats in her new hometown, she never imagined she’d find herself being prosecuted for making an effort to humanely solve a problem before it got out of control.
Betancourt moved to Liberty, MO, in 2008, and quickly noticed that several stray cats were living in her neighborhood. Over the summer the cat population doubled, and she knew somebody had to do something. She called area animal organizations, and none of them had the capacity to take in the strays — but in the course of those calls, she learned about feral cats and trap-neuter-return programs.
The rescue groups encouraged Betancourt to start a TNR program for her neighborhood cats, and she did. Over the next few years, she trapped cats as she was able and returned them to their colony … not to her home.
City officials eventually came to believe Betancourt was violating an ordinance that allows residents to keep or harbor a maximum of four animals. She was neither keeping nor harboring the feral cats; she was simply managing a colony in a much more cost-effective and humane way than the city, whose own feral-cat management strategy is "trap and kill."
This spring, Betancourt was fined $200. In protest — and presumably for the sake of the cats, whose only crime was living in the streets — she opted for a jury trial.
On Monday, she was convicted of a misdemeanor, and the fine was upheld.
Some TNR advocates are concerned about the ripple effect this ruling could have on feral-cat caretakers across the country. If Betancourt could be ticketed and convicted for her act of compassion, how long will it be before other cities with animal-limit ordinances start ticketing the TNR volunteers in their communities?
Betancourt and her attorney are discussing the possibility of filing an appeal. I hope she does, and I hope that feral-cat advocacy groups like Alley Cat Allies use their resources and get involved in her defense.
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