Pops Barnes butts heads with mayor over cat colony program

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson says the TNR program is a humane way to control feral cat populations, while Pops Barnes says it doesn’t alleviate a major health threat.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson says the TNR program is a humane way to control feral cat populations, while Pops Barnes says it doesn’t alleviate a major health threat. rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

The city’s two-year-old Trap, Neuter, Release feral cat colony program is in Columbus Councilor Pops Barnes’ sights.

The District 1 councilor raised the issue at a council meeting last month when he railed against the program, which establishes colonies of spayed or neutered and vaccinated cats under the care of an approved colony manager who feeds and waters the animals.

Supporters, including Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, say it is a humane way to control feral cat populations by reducing the number of offspring. Opponents, such as Barnes, say they are a breeding ground for dangerous diseases such as rabies and so present a health hazard to the community.

Barnes and Tomlinson came to a head at a council meeting last month when two residents of Sears Woods appeared on the public agenda to complain of a feral cat problem in their neighborhood. After one of the residents spoke and before the second appeared, Barnes launched an assault on the TNR program, citing the Centers for Disease Control and various veterinary associations. He also harshly criticized Tomlinson, who championed the program in its infancy in 2014.

“I’m really disappointed in you for allowing this program to continue after the information I’ve given you,” Barnes said to Tomlinson. “I’m giving (his packet of information) to my fellow councilors so that we can vote on this. I want to make sure that you all realize the extent of this. This is serious, health-wise.”

Tomlinson responded:

“First of all, guess what, I care about the health of the community. I put the lives of citizens above animals and I would put an animal down in the blink of an eye before I would let a person suffer. So I don’t think that’s appropriate at all.”

In another exchange, Barnes said to Tomlinson:

“This program is going to have devastating results in this community if a child gets bitten. I’m just telling you, it’s really serious.”

And Tomlinson replied:

“I hate to debate this, but I simply cannot leave it that a councilor is saying that the mayor is going to allow children to die of rabies. So let’s just suffice it to say that there is another school of thought.”

Tomlinson also addressed the problem residents of Sears Woods are having with feral cats, pointing out that it has nothing to do with the city’s TNR program, because there is no registered cat colony in the area.

“I do want to draw a distinction,” Tomlinson said. “We do not allow (unsupervised) feral cat colonies. We exterminate them if they are not adopted. Only TNR colonies where they are vaccinated and checked for disease are allowed with a registered manager. I want to draw that distinction between TNR and feral colonies.”

The issue will arise again next Tuesday when council plans to hold a work session on the TNR program. Supporters of the program have sent out an email, urging other supporters to attend the meeting, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. in Council Chambers in the City Services Center off Macon Road.

As Tomlinson said in the meeting last month, “Ultimately, it’s council’s decision.”