Charges dismissed in 'cat-harboring'

Feral felines can still stop by Doug Edge's house, now charges that his cat-care program violated city code have been dismissed.

Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled in favor of the resident on Friday, dismissing charges brought against him by the City of North St. Paul.

The city's case: that Edge was "harboring" feral cats and caring for the animals without licensing them.

The key point of the conflict was whether or not Edge "owned" the cats. The city contended that by providing food and shelter for stray cats, Edge had taken ownership and should obtain licenses for them. However, Edge and his attorney, Marshall Tanick, argued these cats were not pets, but rather strays that Edge live-trapped and took to the Animal Ark shelter for sterilization and vaccination through the shelter's Trap-Neuter-Release program. The cats then remained at the Edge property while they recovered. Such programs aim to inhibit the feral-cat population and prevent disease spread.

Gearin was persuaded by the argument that these were merely convalescent cats..

"Nothing presented to this Court indicates that he is housing the cats beyond a limited time period for the limited purpose of having them spayed or neutered," she wrote in her decision. "This activity does not constitute 'harboring,' under the case definitions."

Dealing with the strays
Edge and his wife, Annette, heard of TNR through the organization Animal Ark, a no-kill shelter, last summer and began by trapping three cats with specially designed cages last fall. Those cats were sterilized and released, and the couple also adopted one stray before the program went on winter hiatus.

This past spring the Edges resumed their work, which by this time involved shelters in their back yard for the strays. In March, however, they were contacted by an animal control officer who warned them they'd have to keep the cats to continue to roam the city because the animals were assumed to belong to the Edges.

Doug Edge appealed his situation to several city officials, explaining the TNR program and his position that the cats were in fact transient and not his pets. Edge said he thought the issue had been resolved, so was surprised to later find two tickets taped to his door citing him for unlicensed animals and allowing cats to wander at large.

When he tried to get an explanation, Edge said his phone calls to the city went unreturned.

"I'm a resident of North St. Paul and they refused to even acknowledge me," Edge said.

Edge brought the issue to Mike Fry of Animal Ark, and with Fry's help the Edges hired Tanick to contest the charges.

Prior to the dismissal, North St. Paul City Manager Wally Wysopal said the city does the majority of its animal control based on resident complaints, and said this was the case with the Edges.

"It's a challenging issues that neighbors are finding themselves in, and the city has been brought in to enforce the ordinance," Wysopal said.

Wysopal said according to the ordinance the Edges' practice of putting up shelters and providing food and water constituted harboring the cats, and by providing the accommodations Edge was creating a haven that kept nuisance cats hanging around the neighborhood.

"In our opinion he's taking care of these cats," Wysopal said.

Still room for enforcement?
The dismissal of those charges means the Edges can continue their operation; however, the judge's decision leaves room for the city to use nuisance laws to address the issue.

Doug Edge said he was happy with the ruling and had already resumed trapping, and he said he will likely replace the shelters he was forced to take down.

"It's not about me anymore in the court, and hopefully we can turn the attention the cats," Edge said.

Edge said he's eager to move past his differences with the city and work with officials to find a humane way to control the feral cat population, which he warned without a comprehensive response is "just going to explode."

Mayor Mike Kuehn said Judge Gearin's dismissal does not invalidate the city's ordinance, and the city will still enforce pet and leash laws based on resident complaints.

"Not everyone will agree with the city's approach, but it's pretty common approach," Kuehn said.

Kuehn also said that while the Edges' work in keeping the cat population in check is well-intentioned, it still leaves the problems many residents face with the existing strays -- animals Kuehn said are notorious for making noise, killing songbirds and defecating in gardens.

"It doesn't resolve the issue that these animals are going to be running wild," Kuehn explained.

However Mike Fry of Animal Ark said its misguided to blame Doug Edge for the problem when the actual culprits are residents who dump their pets or leave them behind after moving.

"The cats were there before Doug ever got involved," Fry said. "If there's a nuisance, it's a community-created problem."

Luke Reiter can be reached at lreiter@lillienews.com or by calling 651-748-7825.

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