MODESTO -- Two Modesto residents accused of cat dumping won't be prosecuted, but city officials are considering a proposed ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor.
Proponents also have pitched the ordinance to the animal services joint powers agency that includes Stanislaus County, Ceres, Hughson, Patterson, Waterford and Modesto.
In recent months, animal advocates have urged authorities to prosecute two men on charges they trapped cats in their neighborhood and dumped them elsewhere. Modesto police officials said District Attorney Birgit Fladager declined to bring charges under the state's animal cruelty law.
Last week, police Capt. Mike Harris took a draft ordinance to the Stanislaus Animal Services Agency board meeting. Besides making cat dumping a misdemeanor, Harris said, the ordinance would clearly define animal abandonment and outline what residents should do if they trap a cat they consider a nuisance.
Trapping a stray cat on private property is legal. But an ordinance could assess penalties if the animal is dumped in a park, on the streets or someplace else. Harris said it's proper to return the cat to its owner, take it to the animal shelter or call an animal services officer.
The county animal services board did not discuss the proposal last week because it wasn't on the agenda, but scheduled the matter for a special meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 21. It's possible the rules could be folded into a model animal services ordinance being developed for member agencies in the joint powers agency.
Harris said he expects to present a draft ordinance to the Modesto City Council's safety and communities committee. Councilman Dave Lopez said the committee's January agenda is full, so council members may not hear the proposal until February.
Lopez said he believes the city needs to step in because of disputes between cat owners and neighbors. Some cat owners have been irresponsible in letting their pets defecate in neighbors' yards, the councilman said.
On the other hand, a man who released captured felines in a wooded area along Dry Creek was "very irresponsible," Lopez said. "He is taking a problem in his neighborhood and taking it to another neighborhood."
In an April column by The Bee's Jeff Jardine, Phil Sumner acknowledged trapping cats at his north-
central Modesto home and releasing them at La Loma Park. Over a two-year period, Sumner trapped about 20 cats that had defecated in his yard and created other problems, he said.
Hallie Robinson, a former next-door neighbor, charges that Sumner caught and dumped her 2-year-old cat named Woody Pickets. She said that after Sumner told her he was leaving cats along Dry Creek, she searched the woods and saw a lot of stray domesticated animals, but never found Woody.
Modesto resident Heather Sisk accused a neighbor, who is a sheriff's deputy, of trapping felines in her neighborhood, including a family cat that provided therapy for her autistic son. Sisk has said that in response to her complaint, Sheriff Adam Christianson told her he ordered the deputy to cease and desist.
Robinson said Modesto needs an ordinance with strict penalties, but she knows it wouldn't do anything to penalize Sumner for his prior conduct. She said she believes there was enough evidence to prosecute him on violations of state law.
"When I talked with Mr. Sumner, he said the reason he didn't take the cats to the shelter was there were long lines and he had to answer questions about the cats," Robinson said. She said that abandonments are adding to the feral cat population and stressing animal services.
Fladager did not respond to messages regarding her decision not to prosecute.
Sumner said what the city needs is responsible pet owners. "When I had children, I also had cats, and my cats were not allowed to wander in the neighborhood. They were kept inside, and if they went outside, they were on a leash," he said.
Sumner said he moved into a duplex that had three cats with litters under the building and that a neighbor compounded the problem by feeding feral cats.
At Thursday's meeting, Modesto blogger Emerson Drake was the only resident urging the joint powers board to adopt an ordinance. Susan Robinson, an animal advocate from Modesto, said local groups have not been consulted about the wording of the proposed ordinance.
"When you try to solve a problem, it's best to include the stakeholders," Susan Robinson said. "If it is drafted by people who don't care what happens to cats, they are not going to get any support for it."
Harris, the police captain, said there's some confusion about who can be charged with abandonment under the state Penal Code, but a local policy could be more specific.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.