After hearing complaints from constituents, Sen. John Tassoni (D-District 22) withdrew eight bills calling for animal-control officers to impound and either adopt out or euthanize free-roaming or feral cats.
State veterinarian Scott Marshall brought the proposed legislation to Tassoni in mid-February as a method to improve the free-roaming, feral cat problem in the state.
Tassoni says he regrets forwarding the legislation on without closer scrutiny of the language.
"I got rid of all the gas chambers in the state of Rhode Island," he says, referring to a law he sponsored to outlaw euthanasia by gas. "This is like a slap in my face."
"Do you have to get rid of some feral cats? Absolutely. But just to pick them up and euthanize them—no way," he continues.
Marshall and colleagues at the state Department of Environment Management were motivated to draft legislation to deal with a growing feral cat problem. In fact, the state is receiving complaints from residents who are frustrated that local animal-control officers won't pick up large groups of feral cats in their neighborhoods.
"These cats are going without proper and necessary nutrition, veterinary care and shelter," Marshall says. "They're a significant threat to public health, and they're neglected animals. We wouldn't tolerate this with dogs, horses or cattle," he adds.
A Rhode Island feral-cat organization Paws Watch estimates the number of feral cats in the state at 250,000, but the group only trapped, neutered and released 1,000 cats last year, Marshall says.
"They're doing the best they can, but we'll never get ahead of it that way," he says.
The state veterinarian's office is open to solutions other than impoundment, he says, such as the establishment of a group of stakeholders like veterinarians, humane organizations and animal-control officers to objectively evaluate methods for managing unowned and feral cat populations.
"I'm not opposed to taking some time with this," he says.
In the meantime, the state legislation is nixed. Bills also included bans on and $1,000 fines for ownership of alligators, crocodiles, pythons and boa constrictors; new recording and licensing requirements for animal sellers; and an end to a rabies vaccination exemption for show cats and dogs.