Whitehall ordinance meant to keep animals from being a nuisance to residents
Whitehall officials have put a ban on residents feeding feral felines, as they seek to control what they call “animal nuisances” in the town.
A “nuisance-abatement” ordinance, passed unanimously by borough council last week, prohibits residents from creating “conditions that are attractive to” animals such as deer, bears, groundhogs, skunks, raccoons, turkeys and stray or feral cats and bans them from feeding such animals.
The ordinance — meant to protect the health, safety and welfare of borough residents — addresses a wide array of animal issues, such as habitually barking or screeching animals, which could be considered a nuisance.
“This ordinance really was not put in place to address the average, everyday bird feeder,” council President Glenn Nagy said. “This ordinance was put in place because we have a couple of citizens who have been irresponsible with cats.”
A South Passage Drive resident is rumored to have between 50 and 100 cats inside her home, borough officials said. Neighbors have complained about the smell.
Borough officials several years ago contacted the Allegheny County Health Department and Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, whose officials at the time found no violations at the home, borough Manager James Leventry said. Health and humane officials have attempted to return, but the resident no longer opens the door, he said.
“The funk that comes out of those windows in the summer is hellacious,” Nagy said. “Nobody should have to put up with that.”
The ordinance will replace a law passed more than 20 years ago that made it illegal for Whitehall residents to house horses, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, chicken, fowl or bees. That all will remain.
Many new restrictions, though, have been added to meet complaints and issues in the borough, Leventry said.
Half a dozen South Hills residents and animal advocates — only one of whom was from Whitehall — got into a heated debate with council members at their meeting last week as they pleaded that they reconsider portions of the ordinance, particularly the ban on feeding stray and feral cats.
Pat Knezevich of Whitehall said her 88-year old husband enjoys sitting by the window of their Curry Road home watching the birds and squirrels they feed.
“As you get older in life, you have very few things in life to keep you entertained,” Knezevich said. “I'm asking you to please consider that there are some old people in our neighborhood who get much enjoyment from this. We pay a lot of taxes and I don't think that we're asking a lot to feed a little bird or a little squirrel.”
The problem, Nagy said, is that animals don't always know who is supposed to eat it. Bird feeders are not banned in the ordinance, he said.
The ordinance is needed because the borough has “extreme” situations with residents harboring large numbers of animals or feeding 15 to 30 cats in an area, they say.
“The reason that we have to enact ordinances is not for everyday, normal behavior of citizens. It's when somebody pushes the envelope to where we have to react,” Nagy said. “It's not like we have the cat police hovering around in helicopters.” The South Passage Drive resident is only one example, council members said.
“There are other houses. We had a home practically destroyed several years ago by people feeding pigeons. They almost flew away with the ... house,” Councilman Harold Berkoben said.
Animal advocates argued that the ordinance is too restrictive and hurts the everyday person.
“You're talking about extreme conditions here,” said Sally Caldrone, of Pleasant Hills. “It's like you're punishing anyone that just puts a little food out for a feral cat. ...”
“If you stop feeding them, it's going to be a worse problem. They'll still be here.”
Leaders of several groups offered to take care of the feral cats by trapping, spaying or neutering them and then returning them to the wild. They then would have someone feed and care for the “colonies,” or groups, of cats, all at no cost to the borough.
This was not an idea council was willing to consider, Nagy said.
“We're punishing the victim in the middle,” said Rise Chontos, of In Care of Cats.
“The victim's a cat. It's not a person. We're trying to protect human beings at the expense, if you want to say that, of cats. I think that's a pretty fair trade-off,” Nagy responded.
“Nobody has to trade anything. Is there not room in a human heart to care about more than one thing?” Chontos asked.
Council members said that they, too, like animals or have pets. But when animals are creating a stench or sound that is affecting the neighborhood, that is when a law needs to be put in place, Nagy said.
“We're not ogres up here that we hate animals,” Berkoben said. “We all feed birds. I used to spend a fortune on birdseed.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.