Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The case of the curious cat tugs heartstrings and spurs debate at Midway City Council meeting; more to come

By Marjorie Kirk
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Paul Chism, a vice president of Lakeshore Learning Materials, said during Tuesday’s city council meeting that Midway’s culture was one of the motivations for the company’s decision to set up business there. Despite this culture that residents enjoy, every place has its pitfalls.

Bunny Kitty, taking a nap before her final misfortune (photo provided)
Soon after the council approved agreements with the new industry, members were pressed to answer a letter from a concerned resident whose cat was killed in her neighbor’s yard by a trap set for groundhogs. The case of the curious cat became the day’s most time-consuming concern, Council Member Libby Warfield told her colleagues.

Sarah Gilbert said in her letter that she and her boyfriend, Stewart Surgener, moved to the 100 block of South Turner Street in 2010 with her cat, Bunny Kitty. For years the feline wandered the neighborhood and returned home without consequence.

A crawl space in a neighboring yard had been missing a door for quite some time, and Gilbert noticed that groundhogs had moved in. She was not worried about them bothering her family or pet. On the evening of Aug. 9, Gilbert said in an interview, she discovered Bunny Kitty lying still with what she thought was a pile of leaves covering her. But when she went outside she discovered her beloved cat had been killed by a lethal trap. Surgerner spent about an hour trying to pry their pet out of the rusty old trap, set just outside the crawl-space opening.

“A cat can’t say no to a space like that,” Surgener said in a joint interview, “because they would naturally think there was vermin in there.”

Gilbert said, “All four of those houses, you can just walk across the yard. There’s no fences. It’s in this very open place next to a house, accessible to children and dogs and any person that would wander around.”

It is legal in Midway to set lethal traps for animal pests. After the council meeting, Warfield said Midway Baptist Church had hired a pest-control company to deal with the groundhog infestation in its properties behind the church. She said the trap was set "as a last resort" because the marmots are too smart to enter live traps.

Gilbert said the church had no intention of causing harm to Bunny Kitty, but she sees a problem if such traps like these continue to be set. She submitted her concerns, and photographic evidence of her cat's demise, to the council and asked it for an ordinance banning lethal traps.

“Nothing will change what happened to Bunny Kitty,” Gilbert wrote. “Adding this provision to the Code of Ordinances, and so making our best effort to ensure that this does not happen to another pet, will be of some comfort.”

Gilbert's story stirred the council, but Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he did not think the unfortunate death of Bunny Kitty could be remedied by city intervention, and “We can’t prevent all of the sad things that happen.” Vandegrift and Warfield said they had never heard of such an episode in the city.

“If this were a problem that kept occurring, we would have to do something about it,” Vandegrift said. “But I don’t know that anything we do is going to bring that cat back. I don’t know that we’re going to prevent that from happening again.”

Council Member Sara Hicks argued Gilbert’s case, saying that there were other methods that could keep the public and their pets out of danger, such as signs warning pet owners and residents with children that a dangerous trap had been laid in the yard.

Warfield said she worried that Gilbert’s suggestion to ban kill traps would encourage residents to use other more harmful means of pest extermination. “I am as much of an animal lover as anybody in the state but when you take this away … when you have groundhogs eating up your foundation and digging and tearing up, they’ll be poisoned,” she said. “When people use poison that’s even more inhumane.”

Hicks persisted, and the council informally agreed to readdress the concern at the next meeting, at which Gilbert will have the chance to come in and plead her case. In the interview, Gilbert said she was out of town at the time of Tuesday's meeting, but said she plans to attend the next one, on Sept. 19.

Vandegrift said he didn't know how the council could enforce an ordinance requiring warning signs. "It seems like government intrusion," he said.

Hicks second-guessed her own idea: “The only thing is, cats can’t read those signs.”

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