Is Raleigh’s Mayor Baldwin Breaking City Code by Feeding Feral Cats?

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin jokingly invited the city’s animal control agency to fine her for feeding a feral cat outside of her posh apartment in downtown Raleigh during last week’s city council meeting while she was discussing a proposed ordinance banning the ownership of “wild and dangerous animals” and the feeding of local wildlife.

It turns out she may have to pay.

Baldwin is already breaking city law, two Raleigh public safety officers told INDY, and could face a fine of up to $ 500 or even a court order for feeding her furry friend.

The cat may have caught Baldwin’s tongue: In a text to the INDY, Baldwin said that city attorney Robin Tatum had advised her “that there are no regulations that prohibit the feeding of wild cats”. Tatum emailed INDY repeating this and stating, “I am not aware of any facts that suggest that the mayor has violated any provision of the city law.”

Tatum might be reasonably right: the policy does not specifically prohibit people from feeding wild cats, but three sources within the city government say Baldwin’s activities violate at least three existing policies as residents who feed wild cats house them on their properties and therefore assume that de facto ownership obligations that lead them to breach other city regulations prohibiting animals from running around “on a grand scale” and requiring residents to provide animals with adequate housing and vaccines to deliver.

Animal Control often issues fines in these scenarios, sources say.

The INDY asked Tatum if she thought Animal Control was illegally punishing local residents. Tatum replied, “My email to you yesterday remains correct, but that’s all we can comment on at this point.”

The proposed directive would prohibit city residents from owning an ark full of threatening beasts, including big cats, crocodiles and poisonous snakes. But it also prohibits residents from owning or feeding any more common creatures such as possums, squirrels, raccoons, and ducks.

Baldwin, among others on the Council, felt that the draft directive went too far.

“You will punish me at home every day. I have my favorite wildcat and he’s like family, ”said Baldwin. “That’s going a little too far for me.”

“But I’ll tell you what: I’ll feed this wild cat anyway and have you punished with a fine. So there, ”added Baldwin with a chuckle.

Baldwin may have been joking, but it wasn’t funny for animal control officer Lauren Mulleady, who also owns and rehabilitates exotic animals. After Mulleady saw the virtual meeting, Mulleady emailed Baldwin and the Council informing them that she was already breaking the city code. Feral cats are actually a major problem in Raleigh that Mulleady’s division deals with on a regular basis, and yes, officers do good people to feed them.

Not only can wild cats pose a public health hazard – Animal Control reacts to multiple wildcat bites each year – but they can also spread disease and wreak havoc on local wildlife. Feral cats “already pose and do more harm than all the pets of the exotic pet owners in Raleigh combined,” wrote Mulleady.

“It is extremely disturbing to hear you say that it is ‘going too far’ not to allow wildcat feeding and that your wildcat is ‘part of the family’ while discussing the exact potential regulation requiring owners like I get rid of their own animals, animals that WE consider our beloved family members, ”wrote Mulleady. “My animals, which are considered ‘dangerous’ under this possible ban, also belong to my family.”

Mulleady told INDY that she wrote the email as a concerned citizen and did not want to comment.

How did we get from talking about zebra cobras to feral cats? In trying to solve an imaginary problem, has the Council encountered a real one? More on that later.

How We Got Here: In July, a deadly zebra cobra slipped out of an enclosure in North Raleigh, escaped capture while making headlines and creating fear in the hearts of neighbors. Everyone freaked out. The snake was eventually caught and its owner, 21-year-old Christopher Gifford, pleaded guilty to multiple charges in court and was ordered to surrender 74 other venomous snakes in its possession and pay more than $ 13,000 in fines.

Some would say the system works, but not city council member David Knight, who immediately headed an ordinance that would prevent deadly creatures from wandering the city ever again.

But Knight’s policy goes much further than just banning poisonous snakes. It does this and forbids people from owning creatures like big cats, bears, and crocodiles, but also fairly common local critters like possums, raccoons, squirrels, and ducks.

The definition of a “wild and dangerous” animal is any “non-domesticated animal” that is “inherently dangerous to people or property”. The regulation also states that prohibited animals are “including but not limited to” the above list. It also says you shouldn’t feed undomesticated animals.

Existing city law doesn’t directly prohibit feeding wild cats, but residents who do so can be fined by Animal Control for up to three violations. If a resident feeds a feral cat for three consecutive days, it becomes de facto possession of the cat and can be fined for leaving its property, not offering it adequate shelter and not having the animal vaccinated against rabies.

To make matters worse, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city was instructed to stop setting traps during the COVID-19 pandemic for residents reporting feral cats on their properties, which makes matters worse, what their ability to Reduced control of local feral population. As a result, the city’s feral cat problem likely exploded in the last year thanks to lower enforcement.

“We’re not tracking it, it’s very difficult to assess,” said the employee, who refused to be named for fear of retaliation, “but I’m 100 percent sure that it has increased tenfold just because nobody removes the device. “Cats.”

To be fair, Animal Control doesn’t seem to have any immediate plans to fine Baldwin (that would be awkward), but their comments underscore a certain amount of hypocrisy within the local government.

The threat to public safety posed by exotic animals, including poisonous snakes, is mostly imaginary. In the United States, only about five people die from snakebites each year, or about one in 64 million people. Statistically, it is much more likely to be bitten by a feral cat.

Most of the people attacked by exotic animals are the owners themselves and these attacks make headlines precisely because they are so new and rare. The ban on exotic animals will not prevent people from owning them, as local wildlife educator Dan Breeding pointed out at the council meeting, it “will only drive people underground”.

What could pose a problem, however, is regulatory encroachment in the form of an overzealous ban on “wild and dangerous” animals that would force a tiny urban division – Raleigh has only eight animal control officers – to use its already scarce resources to confiscate the pets of the animals People.

The ordinance stipulates that residents only have 90 days to comply with the regulations. Then what? Will an animal welfare officer have to come to get a panther from someone’s basement?

The employee I spoke to assured me that the officers do not want to and do not have the resources. Seventy-five snakes were more than enough.

“I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there could be someone in a city our size who owns a big cat,” Knight said. “The question is, should the rest of us be at risk if a very small population is doing what it wants to do?”

Meanwhile, the very real problem of the city’s wildcats has somehow been turned into a punch line. As Knight pointed out, ask a wildlife expert if you should feed wildlife. They will say no: it is often bad for the animal and disrupts local ecosystems.

It’s a truth many residents don’t want to hear, including Raleigh resident Martha Brock, who fell in love with feeding a flock of wild ducks in the pond behind her home. Brock, a 71-year-old retiree, did her research – she knows bread is bad for ducks, so she feeds them corn. And, politics or not, Brock says she doesn’t want to stop feeding her ducks.

“They can follow me with their networks, I don’t care,” says Brock. “As long as they’re not after the ducks with the nets.”

Government policy is designed to reduce the difference between the ideals and the reality of human behavior. In a perfect world, everyone would listen to experts and no one would feed wildlife. But we love our bird feeders and furry friends, so the “Wild and Dangerous” Animal Ordinance has been referred to the Committee on Growth and Natural Resources for further debate.

Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Stewart, who chairs this committee, said she did not support the regulation in its current form.

“In these incredibly stressful times, we really need to consider all the ways people can find joy that doesn’t harm anyone,” said Stewart. “I believe that keeping pets in this way is a source of joy for people.”

The INDY asked if Baldwin was still planning to pay a $ 500 fine to feed her furry friend. We are waiting for an answer.

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