Martin County woman fights feline fine
Woman goes to court to fight feline fine
Palm Beach Post Florida - Thursday, July 13, 2006
By Daphne Duret, Palm Beach Post Staff WriterSTUART — A conflict between cat-lovers and elected officials over Martin County's leash law has spilled over into a county courtroom, and a judge will soon decide whether one caretaker for a colony of feral cats will have to pay a fine for her efforts.
Kristen Neilander stood before a Martin County judge Wednesday to fight a $575 fine animal control workers gave her after they trapped five leashless cats who are a part of a group of strays she cares for in Hobe Sound. Neilander does not own the cats, but said she has made two trips a day every day for the past three years to the colony to make sure the cats have enough food and water.
She said she has also paid to have some of the cats spayed and neutered.
This year animal control workers trapped the animals and fined Neilander under the Martin County law requiring domestic animals to be kept on leashes. County commissioners expanded the law to include cats in 2003. The law, which fines owners up to $100 for each cat found without a leash, was designed to control the feral cat population.
"I had two choices," Neilander said. "Either I could say that I own the cats and get a citation, or I could let them take the cats to the Humane Society, where they would be killed."
The issue was a topic of discussion at Tuesday's county commission meeting, where cat-lovers blasted Commissioner Lee Weberman for saying that he no longer wanted to propose a change in the leash law that would exempt cats.
Neilander, a volunteer with the Hobe Sound Animal Protection League whose case has caused other cat-lovers to rally around her, on Wednesday said she has hired a lawyer to help her fight the fine. Her case will go to trial Sept. 20.
At her court hearing Wednesday, several other cat-lovers, including league member Maris Sine and volunteer Kelly Benoit, showed up to support Neilander.
Each woman says she has spent thousands of dollars trapping, neutering and caring for other groups of stray cats in Martin County. Benoit also was fined this year for having leashless cats in the colony she cares for, but she paid the fine.
"Don't make her suffer anymore just for loving these cats," Benoit wrote of Neilander in a letter to Judge Kathleen Roberts.
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See also the July 12 Feral Cat Blog! post Martin County Leash Law
A perspective of the Martin County Leash Law from Cats Indoors! in 2003:
"Martin County, FL Pet Law Passed: It took several years of hard work and many meetings, but thanks to the efforts of some very tenacious people, including Susan Beattie of the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Refuge Center, and Dan Martinelli of the Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital, Martin County, FL recently passed a law prohibiting pets from roaming off their owners properties unless restrained. After Ms. Beattie brought the problem of so many free-roaming cats to the county commissioners, the county formed a Task Force with representatives from the wildlife rehabilitation community, the local Audubon society, Conservation Alliance, SPCA of Treasure Coast, the Humane Society of Treasure Coast, and veterinarians to make recommendations on controlling the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 stray and feral cats in the county. The group disbanded after a year of un-resolved conflicts between wildlife groups and Trap/Neuter/Release advocates, but the task force members did all agree that pets should be prohibited from roaming off their owner?s property. When asked what she would recommend to activists working for similar laws in their communities, Ms. Beattie said, "Don?t ever give up, or give in.""