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Friday, February 22, 2008

North Miami code toughened, but stray cats get a pass

Cats got a reprieve when the North Miami city council unanimously agreed to scale back its stricter animal enforcement guidelines.

At a meeting Feb. 12, the council passed on first reading a new law that makes it easier for the city's animal code enforcer, Tami Fox, to do her job. The new law allows for heftier fines if your dogs run loose or if you feed feral cats on someone else's property and bans keeping fowl.

The council appeased droves of cat lovers, by allowing them to keep as many cats as they want and they can feed stray cats as long as they do it in their own yard.

''We have to do a balancing act between the neighbor who wants to feed the cats and the neighbors who don't want cats in their yard,'' City Attorney Lynn Whitfield said.

Instead of the stricter restrictions for cats, the council said the city should work with cat groups, including The Cat Network, to educate the public on trapping, spaying or neutering the animals and then releasing them.

''We do have a problem in the city with the overpopulation of feral cats that we do have to somehow get some control on,'' Whitfield said. ``So we are going to initially try to do something in terms of public information.''

The news was very exciting for many Cat Network members and residents, who attended the meeting.

''It has to start with educating the public,'' resident Marie Samuel said. ``Not just say it, do it.''

Fowl were not as lucky as cats. Fox said roosters are acting as alarm clocks and residents don't want them in the city.

If the ordinance passes on second reading Feb. 26, Fox will be able to issue a $100 ticket on the spot if she sees someone with a live fowl.

Whitfield, along with Fox and Public Works Director Mark Collins, have been working on updating the outdated, 1958 code for months. An ordinance came up for approval in October but was deferred.

Whitfield said it was time to get something in place to make it easier for Fox to clean up the city. Whitfield said she believes stricter fines might encourage people to be more careful when it comes to animals. For example, under the old code, a ticket for letting a dog run loose could cost $50-$100; with the new code, it could be $150.

''This is a step in the right direction,'' Mayor Kevin Burns said. ``I'm glad to see we are working with the right groups.''

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