North Charleroi fields cat complaints, won't dump animal control officer
Tempers flared Monday at North Charleroi's special meeting about nearly a dozen missing feral cats, but the borough will stick with new animal control officer, Patsy Vince.
Council scheduled the meeting after a handful of residents caused an uproar last month when they said the cats were taken without warning and not returned. In August, council hired Vince as animal control officer for $100 per month.
“We never had this problem until these certain people started feeding these cats,” Council President Joe Villella said. “This is just one small area of the borough.”
Vince defended the feral cat roundup during a phone interview afterward. Vince said he did not attend the meeting upon recommendations from “higher-ups.”
“(North Charleroi) hired me to do a job. I'm doing that job, and I'm doing it the proper way,” Vince said. “I'm insured. I have a state-certified kennel where we keep dogs. If these people are so concerned, they should keep their cats in their houses and not let them run around the neighborhood.”
Borough Solicitor Christine Cardinale said council tabled an ordinance dealing with stray animals during its September business meeting. Hall said council will scrap the proposed ordinance.
“The ordinance would be way too difficult to enforce, and there's no point in making a law you can't enforce,” Mayor Lee Hall said, adding he had not spoken with Vince.
“(Vince) didn't do anything wrong. Everything was totally within state animal control laws. The only thing he needs to be held accountable for is establishing a line of communication with us.”
Vince said nine feral cats were captured and “disposed of,” but declined to disclose the method used to destroy the animals.
Feral cats are born in the wild and mostly live outdoors.
“No matter what people are saying, there were no cats getting asphyxiated, drowned, or shot,” said Vince, who said he's performed animal control for 19 years. “Everything is legal and on the up-and-up. These people don't get it. You don't have anywhere to take these cats. There is no shelter that takes in a feral cat. None. The ones that do take them in put them to sleep.
“Now, if you think throwing food out in the middle of the street is humane or letting a cat sleep in a box on your porch is humane, c'mon.”
Council and several residents had complained over the past few months, claiming roving cats had been defecating in people's yards, flower beds and gardens. Some residents expressed concerns over diseases.
“The issue is there is a severe cat problem in this borough. There was no need to notify people of trapping cats. The animal control officer cannot trap any cat who's marked as owned or collared, and there were two collared cats that were trapped and released,” Cardinale said.
“He's already been certified through the state. It is not the responsibility of this council to tell him how to do his job.”
Dr. Faith Bjalobok, a Duquesne University professor who has gathered, spayed or neutered, and treated cats in the Mid-Mon Valley through Animal Friends in Pittsburgh, said there are better ways than trapping and disposing of feral cats.
“He trapped the cats, and he did not take them to an animal shelter,” she said. “And how did he dispose of the bodies?”
Resident Connie McGavitt said two cats she cared for are missing.
“I want to know why did they never tell us when they were coming to get the cats?” she said.
“If they'd have told us, the outside cats I was feeding, I would've kept an eye on them.”
Vince said it was a moot point, adding he kept the cats for the 48-hour period required by law.
Anyone who showed ownership or even interest, could have claimed the cats, according to Cardinale. She added there were no calls made to the borough office during the 48-hour window.
“It wasn't up to me to notify the residents that I was trapping cats,” Vince said. “These people didn't claim them, and they didn't even know they were missing until they heard there was trapping going on.”
Laughing, Vince said, “We caught nine cats and one raccoon, and nobody laid claim to the raccoon. And the raccoon was hanging where the cats are, because they're getting free food. How would you like to live in the neighborhood where a raccoon bites your kid, because he's hanging with the cats?”
Councilman Fred Schwalb, who had several heated exchanges with the cat protestors during the meeting, said he's been harassed since the missing felines made the headlines.
Schwalb went back and forth with two residents, saying he agreed to stop the cat trapping before things escalated.
He had a testy exchange with Bernadette Ohrman involving a contact number for Vince. Ohrman was told to call 911.
“When I get called and threatened, I'm not going to deal with it,” Schwalb said.
Bob Vercamen was one of the residents who praised the borough for hiring Vince.
“Before you hired this animal control officer, there were cats everywhere. I had three litters of kittens under my deck within like four months,” Vercamen said.
“Now I don't see them like I did. I have nothing against cats if you take care of them the way you're supposed to.”
Beverly Deutsch said she owned two of the missing cats.
“They were spayed and neutered and they would come in the house sometimes,” she said. “I knew something was wrong when they didn't come home for supper. The bottom line is, there is another way with dealing with this than killing them.”
Hall said he was relieved to see citizens support council.
“Although there's some people who want to keep feral cats, we got the feeling there are just as many who think having that many cats running free is a nuisance,” Hall said.
Vince said there's another side to him than an animal control officer, saying he brought home a pregnant cat in Donora in June and cared for it and a litter of six kittens until homes were found for each.
“I fed these cats, cleaned up after them – the whole nine yards – and built a cage, and even put an exhaust fan above it because it was hot then,” Vince said. “So I'm not as bad as these people are making me out to be.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.