Hilliard residents might risk paying a fine if Hilliard City Council approves proposed legislation that could criminalize people who “feed, harbor or house” a feral cat.

The proposed legislation defines a feral cat as one that is “wild, stray or not owned” and includes domestic cats “turned wild.”

It dictates “no person shall feed, harbor or house a feral cat or cats” and stipulates anyone doing so could be guilty of a minor misdemeanor. Anyone who violates the ordinance within a 12-month period would be guilty of a fourth-degree misdemeanor upon a subsequent violation, according to the text of the legislation.

The authorizing ordinance for the legislation is scheduled for a second reading, where public comment will be accepted, at the Nov. 25 meeting of Hilliard City Council at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way.

City spokesman David Ball said Nov. 5 the substance of and timeline for the ordinance still were on track.

The ordinance was introduced at council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting Oct. 28, and it received a first reading at the full council meeting the same evening.

Council President Kelly McGivern asked for the legislation to be drafted.

“We continue to receive complaints about the presence of feral cats and related waste,” McGivern said Oct. 30. "We have no ability to address the concerns (without the proposed legislation). The proposal would prohibit feeding feral cats as a way to deter them from our community."

When asked about the magnitude of the problem, McGivern said the city had received three complaints in the past four months.

The proposal raised an immediate concern for council member Omar Tarazi.

“I don’t think the (proposed) legislation makes sense at all, and I don’t see how the police could possibly enforce this,” Tarazi said.

Hilliard Division of Police Chief Robert Fisher was aware council was mulling the proposal but was not aware the legislation would be proposed Oct. 28, said Andrea Litchfield, a police spokeswoman.

Fisher will discuss the proposal with safety director Jim Mosic, and "further discussion on the topic is expected," she said.

“Should council pass this ordinance, (police) would enforce it, just as every other provision,” Litchfield said.

The maximum fine for a minor misdemeanor is $150; the maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.

Tarazi called the proposed legislation a “problem-oriented” approach as opposed to an “outcomes approach.”

“We supposedly have a problem of feral cats ... so let’s (not) immediately jump to criminalizing those people (who feed cats). ... I want to (instead) quantify the problem and focus on finding solutions with the best outcomes,” Tarazi said. “Punishing people who put out cat food, criminally, does nothing to reduce the feral-cat population."

Council Vice President Pete Marsh said Oct. 31 the “proposal merits further study.”

“I recognize that feral cats are an issue in some areas and that there are negative repercussions, (but) I can also see potential pitfalls in this proposal though so I think more research is necessary,” Marsh said.

He said he saw no need to rush a policy.

“With the upcoming transition to a city-manager form of government, budget hearings and numerous other pieces of legislation on the docket, we have a lot of things (on our) plate right now," Marsh said. "I believe there is no need to rush this legislation until we have more clarity on the issue."

A representative of Colony Cats said the Dublin-based advocacy organization opposes the proposed legislation.

“It’s completely awful and not the way to address (the problem),” said Lori Skaggs, a volunteer for the organization for the past 10 years.

Skaggs said the preferred approach is to trap, neuter and release cats in a practice known as "TNR."

The practice also includes spaying female cats, but the acronym utilizes the neutering of male cats, she said.

“TNR is the humane way to manage (feral-cat population)," Skaggs said. "Not feeding them leads to starvation and disease. It’s inhumane for the cats and those who care for and love them."

Meanwhile, the proposed legislation has the support of resident Amanda Whalley, who said feral cats in her neighborhood – enticed by a well-meaning neighbor who places food outside – use her lawn “as their own personal litter boxes."

She said she recently had to remove a dead cat from her driveway.

Hilliard resident Vanessa Willis said she implemented a successful TNR program after finding a population of feral cats on her street when she moved there in 2012.

Hilliard’s proposal is “not the type of solution that is recommended by any rescue groups or humane organizations,” she said.

"The community would be better off to implement a TNR (program) in cooperation with residents instead of making criminal legislation working against the residents,” Willis said.

The neighboring city of Dublin does not have an ordinance prohibiting feeding feral cats, but under the city’s animal-control codes, a person providing sustenance and care for a roaming cat is considered its presumptive owner, said Barbara Ray, nature coordinator for Dublin.

“The only time we address this aspect of the ordinance is when a neighbor has conflicts with a fed roaming cat, (and) then the caretaker must decide whether to cease (feeding), keep the cat (indoors) or turn it in to a shelter,” she said.

Roaming cats create health risk to pets, wildlife and humans, Ray said, and they have a life expectancy of about three years compared to the lifespan of up to 18 years for domestic cats.

Incidents of feral cats with rabies are increasing, and feral cats also can carry zoonotic diseases, Ray said.

ThisWeek also has reached out to Columbus Humane for comment on the proposed legislation.

Check ThisWeekNEWS.com/Hilliard for updates to this story.