ROCHELLE — City of Rochelle officials received a great deal of public backlash on Thursday afternoon following a press release of a proposal for dealing with feral cats in the community, including trapping and the possible euthanasia of the stray animals.
Reaction was strongly opposed to a plan that was released by the city through its own social media platform, allowing residents to trap and turn in feral cats roaming the neighborhoods. The uproar was caused by a statement in the release that the local veterinarian clinic may euthanize any stray cats that were captured.
Social media sites blew up, drawing the attention of regional TV coverage and forcing Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh to address the language in the release and city policies, adding the city is not endorsing euthanasia of stray cats.
“I want to reaffirm and reassure our residents we don’t actively enforce the 1996 city code that actually does allow for the destruction of stray cats after three days,” Fiegenschuh stated in an interview. “We don’t euthanize animals. It was part of a proposal that had not been vetted yet. I take responsibility for that as city manager that it got out before I had a chance to review and discuss it and I apologize to our residents.”
Fiegenschuh said traps are being provided to residents who are experiencing a feral cat problem in their neighborhood, but the animals will be taken to a no kill shelter where they could be spayed or neutered and housed for adoption.
“We do need to deal with this problem because it’s a quality of life issue,” he added. “When you have stray animals running around they can carry diseases, so we need to deal with it, but we need to do so in a humane way.”
On Thursday, a representative from the Rochelle Vet Clinic stated on the city’s Facebook page that the business had no knowledge of the city's proposal, was not participating in any type of euthanasia of stray cats and did not support it.
“There was a huge miscommunication with the veterinary clinic and I did call them on Thursday to apologize,” Fiegenschuh added.
On Friday morning, Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows said he will be bringing up the issue at this Monday’s regular city council meeting and asking for a vote to have the current ordinance removed from the books.
“I want to remove the old policy and then start a review process for creating a new policy dealing with stray animals,” Bearrows said. “The police department receives a lot of nuisance complaints about feral cats getting into garbage and it is a problem, but the old policy on our books since 1996 is outdated for society’s viewpoints today and we need to come up with a new policy with input from staff and residents that is in the best interests of everyone on how to deal with the stray animals and how a program will be funded.”
Bearrows said that while the release of the proposal on Thursday was a mistake, he defended city staff members.
“We have an excellent staff and this proposal was based off of the ordinances already on our books, so the staff was just doing its job to try to solve the problem,” he added. “I apologize to the public and I’ll take the blame for how it came out,” but I also resent the personal attacks and threats that city officials have received over this.”