Raleigh, N.C. — A volunteer group trying to help control the feral cat population in Apex is taking Wake County to court to get it to stop trapping and euthanizing the animals in the town.
Operation Catnip has filed a lawsuit for breach of contract against the county after animal control officers trapped a dozen strays in an Apex neighborhood last week and euthanized 10 of them.
The group says it had an unwritten agreement with former Wake County Environmental Services Director Tommy Esqueda to try out a program in Apex to trap, neuter, vaccinate and then return the cats to their surroundings.
"Tommy Esqueda knew it might not be acceptable right off the bat to make a (Trap-Neuter-Return)-friendly ordinance," Operation Catnip President Lisa Krestaluze said. "This was going to be a pilot program, so we could prove that it worked, instead of the normal trap-and-kill method that didn't work and never has."
Esqueda could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
County attorney Scott Warren, however, says that the Wake County Board of Commissioners never approved any agreement. Animal control wants to euthanize the animals, he says, because they are not adoptable.
"I don’t agree that they should be killed or euthanized. They are healthy. They have a home. It may be an outdoor home, but they are surviving. They have a food source. They have shelter," Krestaluze said. "Cats have lived out doors for 10,000 years. So just because they are not social, I don’t believe that they deserve to die."
Operation Catnip on Thursday did drop a request for a temporary restraining order that could have prohibited the Wake County Animal Center from putting down the two other cats. Both sides reached an agreement shortly before a court hearing that the animals would be turned over to a volunteer.
The group says it hopes it can reopen a line of communication with the county to help reduce the number of animals being killed.
"We do feel happy that there is a lot of communication open, and we are planning to have some talks," Krestaluze said. "(I'm) not sure how that will go, but we’re just happy to have a commitment for an open line of communication right now."
Since September, Operation Catnip says, it has been able to spay or neuter 47 cats because of a $20,000 grant from PetSmart Foundation. It wants to expand the program to areas in the county where there are high numbers of calls to animal control.
Wake County's animal control policies have come under fire in recent months over how it determines which animals to euthanize.
In November, the animal shelter put down an 8-month-old Labrador-hound mix called Sassy hours after it was featured as the pet of the day on WRAL-TV's noon newscast.
Wake County Animal Center officials cited an upper respiratory infection as its reason for euthanizing the animal and said that putting the puppy on the news was a mistake.
That came on the heels of volunteer complaints that the shelter's kill rate had soared in recent months because of a pneumonia and distemper outbreak.
The public outcry from Sassy's death and questions about its policies have prompted the center to review and change some of its policies.