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Proposed Animal Control Ordinance Changes Include Solution To Rising Community Cat Population

Las Cruces City Councilors reviewed proposed ordinance revisions for the Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley during Monday’s work session.

Animal Service Center of the Mesilla Valley Executive Director Clint Thacker outlined proposed revisions to the current animal control ordinance, which would include eliminating the pet licensing requirement, in favor of relying on microchipping. Historically, licensing has been required to ensure animals receive the rabies vaccine, something Thacker says can be regulated differently.

“Now people are starting to question, ‘What do I get out of my license?’ The answer really is maybe another form of ID, is what we get out of it, because the actual rabies [shot] is still required by law,” Thacker said. “So, what we're stating is you can take and remove the license part out of it, have the microchip, the animal control officers will still be able to enforce not having a rabies [shot].”

The council also focused on how to reduce the number of feral and community cats within the city. It’s something Councilor Tessa Abeyta-Stuve says has become an increasingly large problem.

“In my district, I definitely have some neighborhoods that have seen these increased amounts coming back and honestly it's very heartbreaking for the owners that are facing these sorts of issues from cats,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “We have a few powerful stories in our district about, you know, the damage that cats have done to homes.”

New changes to the animal control ordinance would establish a Trap-Neuter-Return program, which would sterilize and microchip cats before returning them to the area they were originally found. Councilor Abeyta-Stuve highlighted the need for a permanent humane solution.  

“If you have a lot of cats in the neighborhood, well another cat is just going to claim that territory,” Abeyta-Stuve said. “And so, we're not necessarily reducing the problem by taking away that one cat, if there's still so many around. So, if this is a program that can help eventually reduce the amount of cats that we're seeing, especially with kittens and everything, it’s something I think might be very successful.”

Last year 971 cats were brought in by animal control. The amount of cat complaints increased significantly in 2020, a fact Animal Control Officer Gino Jimenez attributes to the COVID pandemic.

“I can say that over the last year is probably when we've seen the majority of our cat complaints,” Jimenez said. “And I don't want to say this 100%, but I believe it's all because of COVID. You know, we've had to cut down on our services because of COVID. We didn't want to expose citizens to us. We don’t know if we have it.”

Public Health Professional Athena Huckaby stressed how changes to the ordinance should include collecting data on the total number of feral and community cats within the city.   

“For this ordinance to function well, and to move Las Cruces toward proactive holistic data-driven solutions, implementation must include certain key elements,” Huckaby said. “These include a data collection piece in which we engage with researchers to estimate the number of free-roaming cats in the area and see how that number changes over time.”

The city is currently looking at the possibility of fast tracking the Trap-Neuter-Return program through a separate resolution following calls for urgency by Councilor Kasandra Gandara.

“I would recommend, and I’d love to pull this TNR, this community cat portion out, and get this on the books rather quickly,” Gandara said. “I'd love to get the nod and the go-ahead to do this, so we could start implementing this program right away because we're very behind. And that would be my recommendation, is pulling that portion and getting this going.”

Madison Staten was a Multimedia Reporter for KRWG Public Media from 2020-2022.