MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- A can of wet cat food costs about $2. If you feed it to a stray in Middletown, however, it could soon end up costing you a lot more.
When Marilee Levy sees cats who look sick or hungry, she does her best to help them. It's not just part of her volunteer work for Trip and Trappers, she said. It's something she feels morally obligated to do.
"When you see them hurt and hungry, how can you not?" she asked.
‘Help' for the stray cats in her town can look like taking them to a vet for a spay, neuter, shots and possible adoption if they're friendly to humans; if they aren't, it can mean leaving food to ensure they won't starve to death.
However, the city of Middletown recently informed animal advocates like Levy that this behavior would become punishable by citation starting July 30.
Technically, it always was, but Middletown eliminated the position of animal control officer as it sought to cut costs during the recession. The city relied on Butler County animal control until this month, when it hired on a new officer of its own. Among that person's primary goals: "Thin out" the population of stray raccoons, skunks and stray cats, especially the cat colony that congregates in Smith Park.
Animal advocates like Levy and Joseph's Legacy president Meg Melampy said they understand stray cats can be a nuisance, but they don't think removing food and shelter is a humane or even effective solution.
As a species, cats are among the most adaptable animals in the world. According to Melampy, trying to drive them away by depriving them of food and shelter will only make them venture further into human territory to find it.
"If we stop feeding them, they will probably stop congregating in their hidden spaces," she said. "They will come out to you when you are trying to have a nice picnic with your family because they are hungry. … They will go through the trashcans, and they will leave Smith Park and go to areas and neighborhoods."
Melampy said she hopes to meet with city officials to find a different solution to curb the stray cat population.
The main cause of the problem, she said, is irresponsible owners who neglect to spay or neuter their pets and then abandon them when ownership becomes inconvenient.
"We need to take care of the people who are dropping them off unaltered and spreading all those little tiny kittens around town," she said.
Doing that and ensuring the cats who do live in Middletown have safe, loving homes would be as good for her organization as it would for the city. Melampy estimated Joseph's Legacy spends around $75,000 each year providing veterinary care for feral and abandoned cats.
Her plea to city officials: "Let's work together to try to fix this problem. I don't want these cats to live out here, either, but let's do it the right way."