Wilmette residents and officials who want to know how to identify and deal with vicious dogs, or who want assurance that village rules cover how and when to microchip animals for identification purposes, now have up-to-date language for all of that in the village code.
They also know – at least for now – that they can’t keep chickens in their back yards, or feed and care for feral cats.
However, trustees who voted last week to revise animal control language in Wilmette’s village code assured at least one woman that doing so doesn’t mean they won’t revisit those two issues, perhaps with an eye toward further revisions.
The word they gave to Patricia Winter echoed what they told resident Diane Schafner last month, when the ordinance was first introduced.
As Schafner did when the ordinance was introduced, Winter asked trustees to either hold off on approving the ordinance until they had a chance to consider stripping it of clauses that she said needed more work. In Schafner’s case, that covered the status of backyard chickens; Winter was worried about code changes that bar residents from maintaining feral cat colonies, or approving it without those clauses.
Winter told trustees that the ban conflicts with a Cook County law specifically allowing such colonies, and said it could lead to lawsuit. The county has already sued the village of Broadview over its ordinance, she added, although she said she did not have specific information on the case.
Such colonies – groups of ownerless cats that have been caught, neutered and micro-chipped for identification when possible, and which must be watched, fed and maintained by trained volunteers – have been legal in Cook County under certain guidelines since November 2007. However, communities with home rule power, including Wilmette, can write their own ordinances to supersede the county’s.
Village staff included the ban when they updated animal-control provisions, saying they could increase rodent problems in the village. Winter disagreed, saying that colonies can have the opposite effect.
“The trap, neuter and return approach has been shown repeatedly to be the most effective way to reduce feral colonies and population, as well as the most humane,” she said. “Sterilized, healthy cats can control rodents, not cause a problem with them.”
Winter, who volunteers time at local animal shelters, also noted that the county law requires colony maintainers to have training, and to operate under strict guidelines.
Several trustees pointed out that the proposal has been up for discussion at both committee and board level since June 2010. Winter acknowledged that her request was coming late in the process, but said she had become aware of the ordinance amendment proposal only recently.
Trustee Cameron Krueger said passing the ordinance was imperative because existing code language was so out of date. Most of the changes don’t even change many of the ways Wilmette handles animal issues now, he said, adding, “As I said here two weeks ago, if we’ve overstepped in something, we can go back and fix it, but we need to have something to fill the void.”
Both he and President Chris Canning pointed out that the code revisions lower pet-licensing fees in the village, which will be of immediate benefit to residents. Canning also said updating language about vicious dogs has been overdue.
“There has not been a year on this board where we’ve not had several comments re vicious dogs,” Canning said. Wilmette hasn’t received similar complaints about feral cats or other cat problems, he said, and Winter acknowledged that she knew of no attempts to maintain a feral colony in the village.
Trustee Mike Basil urged Winter to provide more information bolstering her requests, and to get it to trustees: “We’re not here today to say your request has been heard and been rejected, or to tell you don’t come back. Nothing prevents you from educating us on this.”