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A 76-year old man protested a law prohibiting him from feeding feral cats by spending nine days in jail.
David Parton has been feeding stray cats in Gainesville, Texas, for the last 10 years. Because a city code makes feeding a stray animal a public nuisance, Parton received several fines adding up to $900. Believing that the law was wrong, Parton refused to pay the fine, opting to spend the nine days in jail instead.
So why is feeding cats illegal?
Feral Cats Give Mayor 'Paws'
Generally speaking, local governments have "police powers" to enact laws that promote public health and the general welfare of the community.
According to Dallas' KTVT, Gainesville Mayor Jim Goldsworthy argues that feeding cats promotes disease and nuisance damage. The food left out for cats could also attract stray dogs, skunks, raccoons, and possums. He claims that bans on feeding animals help by controlling the large wild and feral cat population.
But animal rights activists disagree. Alley Cat Allies, one of the nation's largest animal advocate groups, strongly opposes feeding bans, calling them cruel and ineffective because they only cause cats to roam farther to find food. The group encourages cities to invest in Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs to better control the feral and stray cat population.
What Will Happen Next?
Alley Cat Allies has hired a Gainesville law firm to write a new stray animal code to propose to the city council. It may be an uphill battle, as cities all over the country -- including Bakersfield, California; Phillpsburg, New Jersey; and Pompano Beach, Florida -- have enacted stray animal feeding bans.
And while it hasn't happened yet in Gainesville, some lawmakers have graduated from banning the feeding of stray cats to banning the feeding of homeless people too. Over 33 U.S. cities have enacted bans restricting giving food to homeless people in public places.
Homeless people may have more hope than homeless cats, though, when it comes to challenging feeding bans. In one recent case, a Florida judge issued a stay to stop enforcement of a homeless feeding ban in Fort Lauderdale, pending a lawsuit challenging the law.