The police department and city officials often receive calls throughout the year about domestic and wild animal issues.

I am in a unique position in my day job as the chief of police and in my civilian capacity as a state licensed wild animal control operator, and therefore I would like to share some thoughts on common issues and solutions.

Your neighborhood provides the perfect environment to sustain, and in some cases, increase the population of wild animals. First, decks, sheds, overgrowth vegetation, big den trees and even storm water sewers provide shelter. Second, farmers and gardeners provide additional sustenance for animals and unsecured garbage becomes a food source. However, the number one suburban food source for wild animals is bird food.

If you have a bird feeder, you have an animal feeder. The spilled seed attracts mice, rats, squirrels, skunks, groundhogs, rabbits, raccoons, opossums and deer; these, in turn, attract foxes and coyotes. Life is a big circle and it happens around your bird feeders.

If you feed your pet outside, you are feeding wildlife. The exposure to secretions or excretions -- such as saliva, urine or feces -- provides the perfect way to spread a plethora of zoonotic disease organisms including fungal, bacterial, viral, parasitic, protozoal and other things such as fleas and ticks. A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted between humans and animals.

I spoke with a resident who feared that children might be exposed to wild animal diseases and at the top of her list were rabies, listeriosis and leptospirosis. In Ohio, the most common animals to have rabies are bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes. Bats have been the only animal to test positive for rabies in Franklin County over the last 30 years.

The police are often called when nocturnal animals are seen during the day acting sick. Typically, it is raccoons with distemper requiring euthanization. People cannot contract distemper, but unvaccinated pets and other animals are susceptible to this highly contagious, and often fatal, disease.

According to veterinarians I have spoken with, the biggest health risks to people, especially children, is from feral cats.

There are individuals, who may or may not own the cats, who decide to feed and/or make litter boxes or shelters available. Regardless of the motivation or intent, Gahanna City Ordinance 505.09(b) states: "Any person, who allows any animal habitually to remain, be lodged, or fed within any dwelling, building, yard or enclosure, which he occupies or owns, shall be considered as harboring such animal."

505.01(a) "No person shall own, have under his care or be in control of any domestic animal, including cattle, horses, swine, sheep, goats, dogs, cats or poultry, which is at large in the city. If a domestic animal, as defined herein, is at large in the city, then the person who is the owner or who normally has care or control of the animal shall be deemed to have violated this section."

As a homeowner, you should be concerned with free-ranging cats who decide to use your flower bed, garden or your children's playground as a litter box. Exposure to contaminated sand or soil can increase the risk of contracting diseases spread by cats. These include bartonellosis (cat scratch disease), salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, ringworm and intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms.

In Gahanna, your police department is equipped to handle emergency situations where animals pose an immediate threat to people. We investigate and address violations of the law. We do not have an animal control officer and rely upon the Franklin County Dog Warden to handle all dog bites and loose dogs that we cannot catch. Franklin County does not handle cat or wild nuisance animal complaints.

We work closely with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which has regulatory authority over all wild animals in Ohio. They do not handle nuisance animal complaints but maintain a list of licensed wild animal control operators. These are private companies and are hired by the homeowner to provide a service.

Capital Area Humane Society will accept stray cats for a surrender fee.

So what can homeowners do to assist with this problem? You have several options to eliminate the conflict in the first place.

* Remove all food sources.

* Prevent access beneath your deck and sheds.

* Install a chimney cap, cut back or lift the fringe of vegetation and trees.

* Coordinate efforts with neighbors or homeowners associations.

Despite your best efforts, you may still experience problems. You can trap the problem critters, but Ohio law states that it shall be unlawful to fail to euthanize, or release on site, any nuisance raccoon, skunk, beaver, coyote, fox, or opossum that is captured, trapped or taken. By law, you can only release limited animals on the property of another with their permission. There are also laws on trap sizes, trap criteria, required tagging, species requirements and monitoring.

During my careers, I have witnessed far too many grievous wounds inflicted upon innocents by what many would describe as "harmless" animals. Similarly, I have seen an equal number of individuals who have contracted serious, and at times, life-threatening diseases from domestic and wild animals. We need to work together to prevent these senseless tragedies.

Dennis Murphy is chief of the Gahanna Division of Police.