Stevens County Humane Society speaks to Morris City Council about feral cat population

*Editor’s Note: In the print edition of the Stevens County Times, the headline incorrectly reads “Stevens County Human Society.” We apologize for this error.

Two Stevens County Humane Society (SCHS) representatives came to the Morris City Council meeting on April 9 to request funds and support.

Tracey Anderson, president of the SCHS board of directors, stated that SCHS has served Stevens County for 20 years. Since their inception, they’ve facilitated the adoption of numerous dogs and cats and helped provide solutions for feral cats at different times.

Dr. Kathleen Jost, board member of SCHS and owner of H & H Veterinary Service, said that about 20 years ago, there were several feral cat colonies in Morris. It took about five years of hard work to get those populations under control, she said, and now, the populations are once again becoming an issue. 

Feral cats may be an annoyance to some, but they also pose health risks to humans, especially to those who may be more susceptible to diseases like toxoplasmosis, such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. 

Jost said that recently, a group of five female cats were brought in during a project with a local citizen who were all in early pregnancy. 24 kittens were born to those five cats, who would have all been born into East Side Park, which would be a health risk to children specifically because feral cats will often use the type of sand at the playground as litterboxes. Since this was recent, that points to the possibility that there is the potential for hundreds of cats to be born in the coming months. 

“There’s also a lot of instances of cats going in gardens, and people get exposed to toxoplasma that way,” Jost said. 

Because of the increase in the feral cat population, SCHS has been receiving many calls about getting it under control, which quickly becomes a very expensive project. 

Jost said that she has worked with other communities that have city support, such as the city of Benson which sets aside funds for the spaying and neutering of some of the feral cats, which Appleton does as well.

Getting the feral cat population under control includes trapping them, vetting them, making sure they’re healthy, spaying and neutering, vaccinating, and then ear notching them for tracking, and then releasing them into a managed colony. Some cats aren’t healthy enough to go back into a colony, and some are re-homed. The most important thing, Jost said, is that they’re spayed and neutered, and vaccinated so they aren’t spreading feline leukemia and other diseases to other cats. 

The cities of Chokio and Alberta are also experiencing feral cat problems, and are actively working with SCHS to find solutions. 

SCHS does an annual fundraiser that has a targeted auction that goes toward a specific project, and this year, they’d like it to help fund the spaying and neutering of trap, neuter, release (TNR) colonies and feral cat populations. Jost said that ideally, the city could provide a matching of funds raised for that project, which usually is anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, but acknowledged that the budget is likely already set for the year and would be grateful for any amount they would be willing to provide. “It gets expensive for a city problem,” Jost said.

An idea for funding given by Jost was the enforcement of dog licensing, which the city of Hancock does, and those funds could go toward controlling the feral cat population.

Some cities have increased their impound fees, but, currently, SCHS collects those fees for instances of lost dogs that come into their care, even though Jost says they hate to do that. Some people are disgruntled at having to pay the fee when picking up their dog, and some instances have even led to potentially dangerous situations where law enforcement had to be called, so increasing that amount would be detrimental to the safety of the volunteers who provide care for the animals.

Mayor Kevin Wohlers said he believes it would be up to the sheriff to enforce dog licensing, and that he thinks it might be a hard sell to residents.

Jost replied that the city of Hancock is very aggressive with its dog licensing program and that it is very organized, so it might be worth looking into.

Mayor Wohlers stated that it is a community issue, as well as a public health issue, and it would be great if the county and city could all work together to find solutions. “It’s a valuable service that you provide for our community,” he said.

“I think we should look and see if there are any funds we can do for this year,” said council member Jeff Miller, “but as we said, it’s something that we need to budget, hopefully, going forward.”

The city council also had four public hearings set for the April 9 meeting, three of which pertained to brewpub and taproom ordinances. 

The ordinances accepted legalized the adoption and operation of brewpubs and taprooms by local businesses, and in all sections, as well as amended the hours for the sale of alcoholic beverages within the city to end at 2:00 a.m. rather than 1:00 a.m., and now allow for the sale of alcoholic beverages on Christmas Eve after 4:00 p.m. and on Christmas Day.

The fourth public hearing held was for a change in the legal description on ordinance number 118, which was adopted in 2023 vacating certain public right of way on E. 1st St for the construction at Stevens Community Medical Center. 

The city council also set a fee for growler sales. This ordinance allows brewpubs and taprooms to sell off-sale growlers. There is no current fee for off-sale alcohol except for 3.2 alcohol. The City of Morris reviewed the fees set by other cities, which ranged from $100-$300. City Manager Rebecca Schrupp recommended setting the fee at $100. 

In her report to the council, Schrupp reported that four staff members attended the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Loss Control Workshop, where they learned about American Disability Act compliance, employee wellness and how it relates to work compensation premiums and heard discussion on how cities could be looking into a wellness program for their employees because it could result in fewer work compensation claims which would lower the cost for that insurance. The staff members also heard from an OSHA representative who discussed workplace safety in volatile situations, and how to diffuse them, and potentially escape them if need be. 

The next Morris City Council meeting will be held on April 23 at the Morris Area High School at 10:30 a.m.