Rather than recommending a limit on the number of cats per household, the Human Services Committee is poised to recommend that City Council adopt a policy statement against hoarding and use sections of ordinances already in the City code to enforce it.

Evonda Thomas, director of health and human services for the City, said representatives of several departments would be selected as the City’s “hoarding team,” which would respond to complaints about animal hoarding or similar issues.

The concept behind this approach is that hoarding – cats or newspapers, for example – can be a mental health issue, as well as a public nuisance.

A property flagged as one with a “hoarder” would be “added to the Civil Enforcement Team’s [which enforces the City’s property standards] list of problem properties.” The team would inspect the property or, if that is not possible, use photographs supplied by concerned neighbors or others who initiated the complaint, to assess the problem and come up with a solution,
according to a memo from Ms. Thomas.

At the team’s disposal will be sections of ordinances addressing pet ownership, cruelty to animals, limits on the number of dogs that can be owned, nuisances, dangerous and unsafe buildings, demolition and repair of buildings and buildings or premises that endanger health.

“This is fabulous,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. “Not only does it help build consensus, but there are many different ways we can address the problem.”

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said her concern was “enforcement. I’m wondering, having analyzed all the ordinances, do you have the authority to enter homes?” she asked Ms. Thomas, who responded, “Yes, we always had the authority. The Civil Enforcement Team used to [address] only property standards. They didn’t have mental health [training] and other training.”

Ms. Thomas added that the new team will meet “more regularly” than before. Although the members of the Human Services Committee did not vote on the policy, they appeared to endorse it.