Will Bellevue become “Compassionate?’

Bellevue could become the area’s first “Compassionate Community” if borough officials agree to enact some animal welfare policies and practices.

The program offered by Animal Friends primarily focuses on the treatment of feral, neighborhood and free-roaming cats. If you are a dog lover, do not fear: Humane Action Pittsburgh is asking Bellevue Council to adopt several ordinances that specifically target puppy mills.

Feral and stray cats have been a matter of concern in towns and cities around the world. Left on their own, the cats will continue to breed, adding to the millions of cats euthanized because they are too feral to become family pets, or simply because there is not enough shelter space to keep them. They also can become a neighborhood nuisance, with fights among unneutered males, using gardens as litter boxes, and causing flea infestations.

In many areas, the answer has been to have the cats trapped and often killed by animal control. However, research has shown that removing community cats does not eliminate the problem, it simply creates a vacuum into which new cats will move. Instead, experts recommend the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) method, in which community caps are trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned to their neighborhoods where a caretaker will make sure they are fed and get any veterinary care needed. With this method, the cat colony dies out gradually, while volunteers and shelters across the country continue to spread the message that cats must be spayed and neutered.

Tara Czekaj of Brighton Heights, a longtime cat rescue and animal welfare volunteer and activist who works with various organizations, says that there are pockets of community cats everywhere, including Bellevue and the rest of the North Boroughs. She is a caretaker for feral cat colonies on the North Side. Some community cat caretakers work with groups such as the Homeless Cat Management Team, while others operate independently, hopefully using TNR practices.

The “Compassionate Community” program operated by Animal Friends requires the borough to do a number of things, one of them being to agree that animal control will not be used with community cats. Instead, the group will help residents TNR the cats. The borough also must agree not to enact any ordinances that would punish residents for caring for community cats, and to remove any existing ordinances that may do so.

In exchange, Animal Friends will present programs and training for colony management, hold two adoption events in town each year, and give all residents of the borough discounts on various services and products available at Animal Friends. Animal Friends also will donate pet supplies to the local food pantry.

Mayor Emily Marberger, who introduced the program at the pre-council meeting, said that she had met with a representative of Animal Friends, and is willing to make several proclamations that will help draw attention to the Compassionate Community program.

Marberger also invited Sam Ahwesh of Humane Action Pittsburgh to address council at that meeting. The group was formed several years ago to address animal welfare issues at the local level. Although activists have been responsible for the adoption of a number of animal welfare laws at the state level in recent years, the state legislative process can be slow and circuitous, subject to various political whims. While waiting for the state to catch up, HAP has been successful in getting local towns and cities to adopt the laws that will protect animals.

A perfect example is the problem with puppy mills. While a bill remains in the state legislature to prohibit the sale of commercially bred cats, dogs and rabbits in pet stores, limiting pet store animal sales to those coming from shelters, HAP worked with the City of Pittsburgh to enact that law. The group now is turning its attention to the surrounding boroughs and townships, such as Bellevue. Ahwesh provided council with sample ordinances that would cover pet stores, and also require breeders to provide kennel license information when selling directly to people.

Council’s safety committee is expected to review the programs and proposed ordinances.