Battle lines drawn over Woodland Park cat wars

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Rick Langenberg

Woodland Park city leaders may enter a growing cat fight by placing a clamp on wandering felines in the form of sterner licensing requirements.

But at the same time, officials are still unsure of what regulatory action they can legally take regarding an animal menace reported by a group of residents in Woodland Park.

Last week, the cat feud hit center stage again, as resident Paul Oppman, a spokesman for a group of concerned residents in a local neighborhood, made another appearance before the city council during the public comment session.

Similar to the issues he and a group of neighbors raised in a presentation in early June, Oppman requested that the city tighten up its animal control laws to regulate loose cats similar to the way it handles canines. He noted that the problem is getting worse, with some residents leaving their cats to invade neighboring properties, with felines sleeping and littering on porches and other home areas, creating a spree of health problems and endangering children. “There are concerns out there,” said Oppman, who stated that he was designated to speak on behalf of a group of residents. He cited a problem with the current regulations that “leave the animal control officers with their hands tied.”

“It is common sense from my approach,” said the neighborhood representative, who wants cats added to the current regulations pertaining to the handling of loose animals and in licensing procedures. Under his interpretation, cats wouldn’t be permitted to roam free outside of their owners’ properties and would be treated in a similar enforcement fashion as dogs. “I am concerned for the city,” added Oppman. Moreover, he fears the city squandering many taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, with the prospects of children or residents getting injured from diseased cats. “That is inherently wrong,”” stated Oppman.

And if the group needs to submit a petition or make another organized presentation before the elected leaders, Oppman vowed that residents would take this extra step. “We are getting enough support,” said the neighborhood representative. He said he wanted to resolve the issue in a common sense and amicable manner.

The resident commented that in the old days of rural Woodland Park, this situation would get resolved by problem cats disappearing. Oppman said the concerned residents don’t want that to occur and don’t want to create a neighborhood dispute. Currently, city regulations bar any action to seize delinquent felines. “There are no clear rules,” admitted WP Police Chief Bob Larson, when the group presented their concerns in June. He stated that the city has mostly complied with the standards adopted by Teller County. To date, there are no county restrictions pertaining to wandering cats.

Again, Oppman’s plea left elected leaders shaking their heads regarding what action to take. Councilman Phil Mella stated that initially the city should take action to require the licensing of felines and to direct the staff to research this problem in more detail. “We have codes and ordinances,” said Mella.

City Manager David Buttery agreed, but indicated that its code enforcement resources are stretched pretty thin. Buttery, though, offered to research what other municipalities are doing regarding cat enforcement. In his preliminary research, the city manager contended that he wasn’t discovering any concrete steps the city could take.

But Mella believes that the city should take more action from licensing requirements. He cited this as a first step to alleviate some of the concerns, but didn’t outline any details.

No date was given regarding when a follow-up report would be issued. However, unlike the group’s previous presentation, this time the council indicated they plan to get more involved in the residential cat fight.

In other government action, the council may soon set a public workshop to deal with growing issues pertaining to the administration of the city’s public right-of-ways and in addressing problems and conflicts associated with underground utilities.

Both Buttery and city attorney Erin Smith stressed the importance of maintaining these right-of-ways. The city manager indicated some disputes have occurred between companies the city has established franchise agreement with and other utility operators. And unless everyone is on the same page regarding the administering of right-of-way agreements, the city and its residents could experience future problems that would have big impacts, according to city officials.

A public workshop on this issue will be held in August.