Woman Under Fire for Trying to Reduce Cat Population in Liberty

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- A Liberty woman is in trouble with the city. She's accused of taking care of too many cats. But Annette Betancourt says they're not her cats. They're a colony of wild cats, ferals, and she says she's trying to take control of the problem.

Betancourt says what she's doing is actually a widely accepted form of feral cat population control called TNR: Trap, Neuter, and Release. Betancourt also says it's far better than how the city currently deals with feral cats, which is trap and euthanize.

Betancourt has four cats in her home, which is the city's legal limit. But when she first moved to Liberty in 2008 she realized that feral cats had taken up residence in the wooded area near her home.

"So I called a few rescue organizations and they said I could borrow a trap from them," she says.

The trap is so she could do TNR, Trap Neuter and Release, because rescue organizations say it's the best way to control a feral cat population.

Betancourt says of the 12 cats in the colony near her home, all but one have now been fixed. She told her neighbors what she was doing, but after some complaints, the city ticketed her for having too many animals.

"These aren't my cats," she says, "I'm just spaying and neutering them, otherwise there would be 100 cats in this area, and I don't want that either."

Attorney Audrey Snyder is helping Betancourt fight the charges and says the ordinance that Betancourt is being prosecuted under shouldn't apply to her because she's not keeping the cats at her home. Snyder hopes this fight draws attention to the need for TNR laws in Liberty, rather than the city's current way of dealing with feral cats: euthanizing them.

"It's more expensive for cities to euthanize feral cats rather than utilize TNR," Snyder says.

Liberty Police Lieutenant Andy Hedrick oversees the Liberty Animal Shelter. He says he understands the arguments for TNR.

"People have good intentions when they try to care for a feral colony, I don't doubt that for a moment," he says. But he adds that his job is to enforce the law. "We have to worry about the big picture, worrying about disease, responding to nuisance behaviors."

Betancourt says she hopes raising awareness will help change the law and that's why she is taking the issue to court.

Riverside, Missouri stopped euthanizing feral cats and started a TNR program five years ago. The city now reports that it's been so successful with population control, they haven't had to do any TNR for the last two years. Independence, Missouri just received some grants to also start a TNR program.

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