Lehigh Valley

Residents ask Emmaus Council to remove feral cats

Borough buying small flashing bouys to scare geese out of Furnace Dam pond

EMMAUS, Pa. - Is "fecal matter" a less objectionable phrase than the word "crap" when complaining about feral cats during a public meeting?

When Emmaus resident Sherry Meck started talking about the unresolved issue of cats allowed to roam free in the community, a member of council quickly interrupted her at Monday night's borough council meeting.

"Emmaus has a dirty little secret," began Meck. "That is, it's full of crap."

"Excuse me," said council member Brian Holtzhafer. "I don't appreciate the language at all."

Said Meck: "I didn't want to use any derogatory words."

Said Holtzhafer: "I consider that word derogatory."

Responded Meck: "Well, then it's full of fecal matter. Okay?"

Holtzhafer expressed no further objection.

Meck said one reason for her unflattering characterization is the goose droppings in Furnace Dam Park, an issue borough council took action on later in its meeting. "You can't even walk," she said. "People cannot enjoy the park."

But her main complaint was about feral cats.

"They're leaving their fecal matter in my yard and my neighbor's yard." said Meck.

She argued that Emmaus is failing to enforce its own animal control laws regarding cats.

She accused the borough of having a double standard, saying she would be fined if she did not pick up after her two dogs, "which I do every single time."

Meck said her two dogs "poop" about twice a day, adding: "I hope that word does not offend you."

Doing the math, she said that amounts to 1,456 piles of poop a year.

"We have more than 30 feral cats in our neighborhood," she said. "But if you take that average, times 30 cats, that's 21,840 piles of poop per year."

Meck, who lives in the 1100 block of W. Broad Street, claimed seven colonies of feral cats are in Emmaus. "It's not just in our neighborhood." She said one is near St. Ann's Catholic Church; another is around Second and Harrison streets.

Meck said the borough's recommended solution for dealing with feral cats - "trap, neuter and return" -- does not work because "you have to have 100 percent compliance. Not one person from our neighborhood has turned in a cat to be spayed or neutered."

She added even if all the cats would be neutered they still would return to her neighborhood and continue "contaminating" yards.

A plea for help

Meck first came before borough council to complain about feral cats in September 2013.

This time she was not alone.

Christine Eck, Meck's neighbor, pleaded with council to do something about the cats.

"I really feel like I don't have any rights," said Eck. "These cats have more than I do. I really need help with this. Please, somebody help me get rid of these things."

Eck also said the solution is not to have cats neutered but then allowed to return to the neighborhood.

"I'm really hoping you'll come up with some kind of plan to get rid of these cats," Eck told council. "If you hurt them, you're going to be in trouble with the animal rights people. But they don't want them. They don't come and get them."

On some days, said Eck, 10 cats are sunning themselves in her backyard. She said they even bring her dead mice.

"I don't want them. If I wanted cats, I'd have them in my house."

Eck said she takes a lot of pride in her yard, which she called her little haven, but the cats are destroying it.

"I picked up 97 piles of poop over the weekend from the winter," she said. "Now that they can dig up the mulch, they're starting to bury them. After it rains, it stinks outside. It's embarrassing."

Eck also said she can't let her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson play in the yard.

Cat laws being enforced?

Meck said Emmaus animal control laws require that cats as well as dogs must be licensed.

She asked how many cats are licensed in Emmaus. No one on council knew. "I would doubt that it's anywhere near the percentage of dogs that are licensed," said Meck.

She also noted those laws prohibit any cats from "running at large" in the borough. The laws state the borough's animal control officer or police may "seize and impound" any cat running at large.

"We have cats running around day and night," said Meck. "The law is not being upheld."

And, while some on council argue the cats are wild, Meck argued that anyone who gives feral cats food or shelter is "keeping and harboring them" under borough law. "As far as I'm concerned, they own those cats." And she argued those people should face substantial fines.

Holtzhafer wanted names. Meck gave one woman's name and said she could show council where another neighbor lives.

Eck said one of their neighbors is feeding 14 cats.

Meck also gave council a letter from two neighbors who could not attend the meeting but want something done abut the cats.

"You have to enforce the laws you have in place already," said Meck. "They are very good laws."

Meck said she has been in contact with Richard Hontz, the borough's animal control officer, but he did not come to her home. "He told me the only thing he can do is provide traps for me."

"That's correct," said council president Lee Ann Gilbert.

"That does not work," said Meck. "His job is to uphold the law, which you have very well documented in your ordinances. It is not my job to take care of feral cats. Our animal control officer needs to capture these cats."

Meck said once captured, the cats should be euthanized if no one adopts them. "I understand people's reservations about killing these cats," she said. "But that's the only way you're going to solve this problem."

Meck said her dogs get sick from eating fecal matter that cats leave in her yard. And she said her neighbor's dog was attacked by a cat and had to be taken to the vet, which cost $137.

She also said the cats are creating "a terrible flea problem."

Council response

While most said nothing, some on council did not seem sympathetic. In fact, at one point Meck snapped at a grinning Holtzhafer, saying: "I don't think this is funny."

To Holtzhafer's credit, he later joined his six council colleagues in voting to allow Meck to address council for more than five minutes.

After Eck shared her complaints, she asked council: "Am I just blowing air in the wind here?"

"We'll see what we can do," promised Gilbert.

"I want them to follow the laws of Emmaus," said Meck after the meeting. "They made the laws."

Council member Wesley Barrett assured the two women that, while it may seem like their complaints were falling on deaf ears, they "genuinely"
were not.

Barrett suggested: "Maybe the reaction you're getting here is just that we have obviously heard these concerns before...We have heard this a number of times..."

Barrett said 35-40 residents attended an afternoon committee meeting about feral cats last year.

Gilbert said council had three meetings on the topic last year. "You can get traps; you have to trap them yourself." She said residents have to pay to get those cats neutered and also have to release the cats after that is done, although she suggested they could be released "into the wild."

But Meck said the trap, neuter and release program does not work, because it does not solve the problem.

Not long after Meck challenged Emmaus officials to be pioneers in creating an effective program to take care of the problem, Barrett said last year the Sanctuary at Haafsville in Upper Macungie Township viewed Emmaus as one of the most proactive municipalities in all the Lehigh Valley.

New plan to eliminate geese droppings

Will small buoys with blinking amber lights finally convince geese to leave Furnace Dam Park in Emmaus?

Borough council approved purchasing two "water units," at a total cost of $748, from a company called Away with Geese, in the latest attempt to end a long-time problem with geese in that small park along 10th Street.

Many times, people have rented picnic pavilions at Furnace Dam, then requested their money back the next day "with good reason," said council member Jeffrey Shubzda.

"It is inhabited with geese. They make a mess of the park, they make a mess of the children's play area, they make a mess of the pavilions."

He said the park is covered in geese feces and is "not a good place for children to play."

He said the borough currently is getting no rental revenue from pavilions in that park. "Just on Saturdays, we lose nearly $1,500."

Shubzda said now only two geese have been seen on the park's pond, but Holtzhafer predicted there will be 150 by the end of July.

Shubzda said products sprayed on the park's lawns have been used in the past to deter geese, but are very expensive and must be reapplied after it rains.

Bans on feeding geese in the park also have not persuaded them to leave.

"We haven't done anything," said Shubzda. "I'm hoping we can try something to see if this actually works."

Away with Geese states its units automatically operate at night and produce solar-powered amber beams of light directed at "goose eye-level" in a 360-degree radius.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based company states geese have incredibly sensitive eyesight, so its units will annoy them enough that they will relocate, but with no ill effects.

The units recharge themselves every day and have an effective area of 3.5 acres.

Shubzda said the company offers a 90-day money back guarantee.

He said it's a maintenance-free product, environmentally friendly, humane for geese and cost effective.

He said one of the devices will be placed in the center of the main pond at the park and the other will be anchored in the much smaller upper pond.

Shubzda said the lights are not bright, so they won't disturb humans living nearby.

But he said the lights will make the geese feel very uneasy, especially when they move their young down to the water for protection toward dusk.

Council member Brent Labenberg asked if the lights deter geese from coming back to the pond during the day. Shubzda said he was told by Away with Geese that eventually the geese will leave and not come back.

Shubzda was told Emmaus will be the first municipality in this area to use the lights.

Barrett suggested talking to officials at nearby Rodale, which also has a pond on its property, about working together to solve the problem.

No left turn from Green Drive

Council unanimously approved a new law prohibiting traffic from turning left from Green Drive, which runs behind the East Penn Plaza shopping center, onto Cedar Crest Boulevard.

The prohibition will continue for a 90-day trial period, after signs are erected. It was approved because of the high number of accidents at that intersection, which is just north of the busy Cedar Crest Boulevard/Chestnut Street intersection.

Allentown resident Brett Heffner attended the meeting to express concern that prohibiting left turns from Green Drive will cause more traffic to build up on Chestnut Street, waiting to turn left onto Cedar Crest.

He said the left turn signal traffic light on Chestnut does not allow nearly enough time for drivers to turn onto Cedar Crest, so some people use Green Drive to access Cedar Crest -rather than waiting "multiple cycles" to make the turn from Chestnut at busy times of day.

Heffner predicted the change will have an adverse impact on businesses in that shopping center, because a median strip prevents drivers leaving the strip mall from turning left onto Chestnut. Gilbert said all the businesses have been notified of the change via letters from the Emmaus Police Department.

Heffner suggested PennDOT should have studied the intersections before the change was made. Labenberg suggested PennDOT be asked to study the timing of those traffic lights, if that study won't cost the borough any money.

Labenberg said the left turn signal on Chestnut allows only three or four cars to turn onto Cedar Crest on green. "It does get backed up."

Gilbert said the borough will contact PennDOT to see if it can change the timing on those traffic signals.

Council member Nathan Brown suggested the borough also might to check to see if any recent traffic studies on the Cedar Crest and Chestnut intersection have been done by Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.

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