Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Albert Schweitzer has been credited with once saying, “The only escape from the miseries of life is music and cats.” I’m not sure if he actually said it, but if it wasn’t him, it must have been someone with a deep sense of appreciation for things that bring balance and beauty to this often chaotic world.

I’d never spent much time around cats until I fell in love with Nancy. Once I got to that point, I realized that love meant Nancy…..and her cats. In our thirty years together, there have been many cats who generously shared their home with an interloper like me. There was Parker, then Stormy, followed by Tiddles and Beau. Corky took up residence with us about the time we left Memphis. Since we’ve lived in Emporia, we’ve had Emma, Brudder, Turkel, Felix, Mia, Chee Chee, Gracie, and, most recently a little Himalayan kitten we’ve named Kitsi.

We weren’t really in the market for another cat, but Kitsi came to us as the only reward thus far for what has become a frustrating exercise in what I thought was good citizenship.

Permit me to explain.

About a month ago, a friend made us aware of a feral cat problem at a rental property near the corner of 8th and Rural. There were at least twenty-five of them roaming around. Our friend, who is very kind to animals, convinced us to help her trap some of them and get them to the animal shelter. So, we went and set two traps. In the process, Nancy noticed that there was one little kitten that wasn’t afraid of people. That was Kitsi. She was covered with fleas. Her eyes were clouded over with gunk of some kind. Nancy decided to bring her home that night and then get her to our vet, Floyd Dorsey, as soon as possible.

The next morning, we found that we’d actually caught two of the feral cats in the traps. We took them to the shelter, thinking they’d be glad to see us. We were wrong. One of the staff told us that what we’d done was illegal. After a brief, but mutually combative encounter, they reluctantly agreed to take the cats.

Later that day I called the police department to see if Nancy and I were, indeed, criminals. We were reassured that we were still citizens in good standing.

I wanted to do more, but didn’t see much point in pursuing things further until the city clarified its relationship with the shelter’s management. That’s what I’m still waiting on. As things stand, city management is waiting on the city attorney, who has recently had surgery and is still recuperating. Ain’t politics grand? You’d think that common sense wouldn’t necessitate a lawyer, but politics isn’t generally about doing what makes good sense, is it?

So, the feral cats are still squatting, doing what feral cats usually do – breeding, passing disease to the pets of other homeowners in the area, and being a nuisance.

The cats, of course, aren’t to blame. They’re just doing what comes naturally. The root of the problem lies elsewhere.

In case you haven’t noticed, feral cats almost always find the feral abode of some feral property owner (think slum lord) to take up residence. It’s a mutually satisfying arrangement. The feral cats seem to like it and the feral property owners profit from it by taking advantage of the city’s poor. They also get the added benefit of low property taxes, which are based on the low value of the hovels they profit from.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Our property taxes skyrocket as we try to make improvement to our property. But, even our attempts at improvement have marginal benefit, thanks to the drag on property values that feral property owners inflict on us.

I could go on and on about city governing codes that were designed to deal with problems like this, but that would be pointless. Common sense tells us that this city’s homes should be structurally sound and that our properties and neighborhoods should be “protected from blighting influences (the City of Emporia’s property codes, section 5b).”

Unfortunately, getting the city to respond is a major undertaking. I’m trying not to be cynical, but I’m losing the battle. It appears to me that we’ve got a real feral problem in this city. We’ve got feral cats, feral property, feral property owners, and feral politicians trying their best to ignore the problem.

So, the problems continue to fester. The feral cats suffer needlessly. The feral property owners profit handsomely. The feral properties keep falling apart at the seams. The feral politicians keep hoping the problems will magically disappear. And, the rest of us pay the high price of neglect. It’s what horse racing fans call the exacta, with the public getting the short end of the stick.

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