Code targets people, not animals

By John Peters -

A week after adopting what is proving to be a controversial measure aimed at preventing town residents from feeding wild animals, a Pilot Mountain official is trying to assure his constituents they are not going to be fined for feeding the occasional stray animal.

The ordinance, passed unanimously when the board met Monday, Aug. 21, makes it illegal for town residents to set out food or otherwise attempt to feed wildlife — with bird feeders an exception to the law. Violators can receive escalating fines, starting at $100 on a first offense, $250 on a second offense, $1,000 on a third.

The reason behind banning the feeding of wildlife, according to town documents, was that the board had received complaints from Pilot Mountain residents of people attracting wild animals by feeding them.

“The animals are damaging property, eating (other) food, running across streets,” Town Manager Michael Boaz said Monday, a week after the meeting.

Commissioner Evan Cockerham went so far as to suggest some individuals in town are baiting wild animals for what he considers nefarious reasons.

“This law is in response to some who have baited wildlife into the heart of town irresponsibly and without regard for the safety and well-being of the animals. Reportedly in an effort to do harm to their neighbor,” he said in a letter to the editor published in today’s Mount Airy News. “There have been issues with skunks, deer, vultures, and I’ve seen at least two-dozen stray cats in one or two front yards in a downtown neighborhood on multiple occasions.

“These are not examples of feeding starving animals. These are not examples of compassionate rescue or trap, neuter, and release,” he said.

He said it’s those individuals who have brought about the need for the ordinance.

The ordinance also bans individuals from feeding stray domesticated animals, such as dogs or cats.

Both Boaz and Cockerham indicated that doesn’t mean the town’s police will begin patrolling the streets, looking for individuals feeding strays.

“It’s complaint driven, first of all,” Boaz said. “It’s not that the officers are going to go around searching for violators. As always, the first step in any enforcement is to talk to any violator, to tell them we have this ordinance…explain to them it’s unsafe…Our goal certainly is to educate folk as to why that’s not a good idea.”

As for targeting the feeding of stray domesticated animals, Boaz said that is because of some issues with a few landowners.

“We have residents who are maintaining (vacant) buildings, keeping scores of cats with no regard to their health,” he said. “The board wanted to address that…not to stop the random citizen from feeding the stray that comes up on its property. We need to address people feeding a number of stray cats and not dealing with other health issues,” such as spaying and neutering and vaccinations.

“We’re dealing with some issues with people essentially baiting animals into downtown,” Cockerham said Monday, a week after the meeting. “I’m talking about 20 or 30 cats at one time, with no effort to properly help the animals or help them get rescued.

“If you’re doing some legitimate rescue, or you want to bring in a rescue…some do spay and release, we want to make sure we’re not preventing those people from doing that,” the commissioner said. “We’ve already spoken to our police chief about that to make sure the intent of the law is well understood by those who will be enforcing (it).”

He said the board may yet modify the code to better address the difference between such people, he said.

“We’ve already spoken to our police chief about that to make sure the intent of the law is well understood by those who will be enforcing. We’ll work to clarify with the police … we’re not punishing people for feeding one stray cat, or trying to rescue an animal.”

Dogs legal downtown

Both Boaz and Cockerham addressed what they believe might be another misconception stemming from last week’s meetings — the idea it is illegal to have dogs downtown.

The town manager said it is illegal for individuals to bring dogs to public events, and last week’s discussion centered on more signs reminding people of that.

He said individuals walking with their dogs on leashes are more than welcome downtown. Cockerham added that he often walks his dogs down Main Street.

By John Peters