More than three years after it was implemented, hard-won revisions to the city's feral cat ordinance seem to have put the city on the right track to both control and humanely treat the semi-wild animals.
The 2009 changes sparked concern from cat advocates at the time and have taken a while to implement, but finally seem to be working well, according to those involved.
"Since 2010, the numbers have consistently gone down," said Jeff Charter, executive director of the Petaluma Animal Services Foundation, which took over operations of the city's animal control department last August. "We handle about 85 percent (fewer feral cats) at the shelter than we handled five years ago."
He thinks the reason for that is giving people the option to stop cats from reproducing through low-cost spay and neuter programs coupled with advice and veterinary help.
"What we're seeing is more and more citizens taking advantage of spay and neuter," Charter said. "It helps them financially and gets more cats spayed and neutered."
Similar county-wide programs like Love Me Fix Me and Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County provide spay, neuter and adoption programs.
The revised Petaluma ordinance first came about due to an outcry from many community members who saw feral cats as a nuisance and a hazard to wildlife, especially nesting birds. Many cat advocates objected strenuously to killing the independent animals, but just as many pushed to protect the bird populations in city parks, such as the birders' mecca, Shollenberger Park.
At the time, many cat advocates were wary of the new ordinance, objecting to a requirement that those caring for large feral cat colonies must have insurance, and a ban on feeding the cats near the Petaluma River wetlands. Since then, however, some have come around.
"Fortunately for Petaluma, Jeff Charter is now in charge at the shelter and has taken the appropriate steps to reduce and manage the feral cat population," said Jennifer Kirchner of Forgotten Felines of Sonoma County. "The programs and policies he has put together are positive and effective."
Her organization now partners with the Animal Services Foundation to offer low-cost spay/neuter options every week, collaborate on trapping efforts and provide feral cat education.