FULTON – At last night’s Common Council meeting, Wednesday, Nov. 6, a heated discussion began during a public hearing regarding a proposal to amend a local law on animals, specifically unspayed/unneutered pets that run at large.
The amendment to the current Chapter 216: Animals would require all pets who wander outside out of the care or custody of the owner to be spayed/neutered, or for unspayed/unneutered pets to be kept inside the home.
Tanya Semchenko, president of Oswego County SPCA, went up to the podium to explain the proposed law amendment and why SPCA is recommending it. She said the law would promote responsible pet ownership by requiring people to spay or neuter their pets if they are outdoor pets and roam around, mimicking Oswego’s current law.
Semchenko said the purpose of this is to try to keep the overpopulation of cats down, giving the example that one female cat running at large and her offspring over the course of seven years can produce 420,000 kittens.
She said many of the calls they get to pick up stray cats is because renters who have moved left their cat behind or residents with unspayed/unneutered pets allow them to run at large, contributing to the overpopulation.
Daryl Hayden, former Fulton mayor and Common Councillor, expressed concern that this new law would open up a door for someone to go and shoot their neighbor’s outdoor pets.
“Certainly, nobody wants anybody taking people’s animals or shooting people’s animals. What we want is people to be responsible for their animals and to be good neighbors to each other, and that’s all we’re asking,” Semchenko said.
Hayden said he does not want good people who spay/neuter their pets to face the negative consequences of a neighbor bringing them to a shelter because it is outside, then have to pay a large fee to get them back.
Semchenko said no one is taking anyone’s pets, and there will not be an issue if someone’s outdoor pet is spayed or neutered. She later said SPCA has guaranteed $500 per month to help with costs. She said they have already taken 20 stray cats off the streets at no cost to the city since they partnered with the Common Council.
She also said the Humane Society offers low cost spay and neuter clinics and SPCA works through them when they take in cats.
At this point in the public hearing several people in the audience began shouting over each other with what they think and further questions for Semchenko.
“We’re not saying they can’t be off your property,” Semchenko said. “We’re saying they can’t be unspayed or unneutered off your property… I’m not sure why wanting people to be responsible pet owners is such an issue. I mean, we obviously have an issue in the city.”
After Frank Castiglia, a resident and county legislator, called for people to stop talking over each other and allow Semchenko to finish her time at the podium, a resident asked her to explain the law and how it would work.
Semchenko said the current law has not changed in 39 years, and the city has since increased its number of renters, which has lead to the most common scenarios SPCA experiences.
She said the point of the law is not to require people to spay or neuter their animals, but to keep unspayed or unneutered animals indoors so they do not contribute to overpopulation or causing nuisance.
With the law amendment, a majority of the time when an animal is picked up, it would be because someone called about it.
Semchenko said the full details of the law or its enforcement have not been figured out yet, but talking about the issue during the public hearing is a step toward working it out.
“We have enough issues in the city and I think we are wasting too much time on cats that I have not seen,” Mayor Ronald Woodward said.
Semchenko said SPCA gets five to seven calls every week, and there is a business in Fulton that has been having problems with stray cats.
She began explaining that the animal control officer already has the ability to bring animals running at large to the shelter when Woodward moved to close the public hearing.
Castiglia did not agree with ending the discussion.
“How can you close the public hearing when there’s still people who want to speak about it?” Castiglia said. “All due respect, what’s going on here is a speaker gets up here and speaks and then all of a sudden everyone in the audience starts asking her questions when they should be asking you questions, not this person… This is not the way we’re supposed to be running this Common Council.”
The council did not vote to amend the proposed law. It then continued with its regular agenda.
Later that night, Oswego County SPCA posted on Facebook they were disappointed the amendment had been indefinitely tabled by the mayor and approved by the council.
“Certainly not a fine day for the citizens of Fulton or the animals,” the post said. “Hopefully, the incoming Mayor and the councilors will be more open to the issue at hand under the new administration. We will not give up! Thank you to those who stuck around after the meeting to have a discussion with us and care about the animals to engage in a respectful conversation. This is the only way change can happen.”