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The Human Services Committee sent the proposed City Ordinance that would limit the number of cats in individual Evanston homes back to Health and Human Services staff for major revision at the July 7 meeting. In a somewhat heated exchange pitting veteran Council members Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, against the newcomers on the committee, the three newcomers prevailed, leaving the ordinance in legislative limbo indefinitely.
Debate began with Gail Lovinger of the Community Animal Rescue Effort (C.A.R.E.) addressing the Committee.
She suggested alternative approaches to dealing with the problem she believed the ordinance sought to correct: hoarding animals. Pointing to nuisance provisions, building standards, an ordinance requiring the confining dogs and cats in heat, pet
-licensing ordinances, and a state anti-hoarding law, she told the Committee, “We seem to have a large arsenal ready” to deal with hoarding.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward who also owns Fit and Frisky pet supply store, made her position known immediately, arguing that the City had experienced only three incidents of hoarding in the last several years and that all had been resolved without a cat-specific ordinance. She said she agreed with Ms. Lovinger that hoarding is a mental health issue, and called the proposed ordinance “hitting [the problem] with a sledgehammer in all the wrong places.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, the next newcomer to oppose the new ordinance, said, “Our policy goals should be to encourage responsible pet ownership” and maximize “licensing fees as a revenue source.” The new ordinance, she added, fails to accomplish those goals.
Ald. Holmes took the debate in a different direction, saying that species of pets should be treated similarly. Evanston law limits the number of dogs to three per household. Saying she is “not a cat or dog person,” she added, “I do think that if we’re going to have a limit on one species we should have it on another. If we do dogs, we should do cats.” Ald. Fiske disagreed, saying cats are smaller and do not bark or fight.
Ald. Jean-Baptiste, appearing slightly frustrated with the direction of the debate, called upon City staff to describe the difficulty cat hoarders caused them. Carl Caneva, environmental health division manager, and Nancy Flowers, community health division manager, both related the time it took to bring a cat-hoarding case to a successful conclusion. The case that inspired the proposed ordinance, Mr. Caneva said, took 18 months to resolve. The difficulty for City staff, said Evonda Thomas, director of health and human services, was gaining entry to the home in question.
When the debate turned to the health of the cats themselves, Ald. Jean-Baptiste’s frustration appeared to boiled over. “Human beings don’t count? The health of the animals?” he said. The stage was set, with Alds. Holmes and Jean-Baptiste for the ordinance and Alds. Fiske and Grover opposed. The fifth committee member, Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, finally spoke, supporting the side of the newcomers.
“It’s an unenforceable ordinance,” Ald. Tendam said. “I was opposed to it from the get-go.” He said the City needed to “find a better solution, either working within the laws we have or maybe a different ordinance [than the one proposed].”
With Ald. Tendam on record opposing the ordinance, and Chair Jean-Baptiste seeing the writing on the wall, the Committee referred the ordinance back to the Health and Human Services Department, with the instruction to work with C.A.R.E. to prepare a different ordinance, if needed, that focuses more directly on the hoarding issue.