Posted Friday, October 27, 2017 – 1:35 PM
By Victoria Talbot
The City of Beverly Hills has charged stray cat advocate Katherine Varjian with a misdemeanor complaint of feeding feral cats in the vicinity of 219 N. Palm Dr. without an annual permit.
Penalties for a misdemeanor can include a $1,000 fine, six months in jail and three years on probation.
The alleged offense took place on April 30.
Varjian was at the center of a maelstrom of controversy that resulted in the creation of an ordinance in the City pertaining to the feeding of feral cats in 2009.
However, says her attorney Marla Tauscher, who specializes in animal control and shelter law, the problem is that the ordinance is “ill-conceived and the cats are starving.”
Varjian, who is 74-years-old, is a lifelong advocate for stray cats. She is well-known for her dedication to “Trap-Neuter-Release,” or TNR, to reduce the stray cat population, and for her determination to feed the population of stray cats and keep them healthy so that they do not become susceptible to diseases such as feline leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
Through the years, Varjian has angered a few residents who are equally dedicated to eradicating the stray cat population entirely through trap and kill methods.
Proponents of TNR claim that it is inhumane to trap and kill feral cats. They also point out the so-called “vacuum effect,” which results from the removal of cats. When individual cats are removed from their habitats, they claim it causes cats from surrounding areas to move in and reproduction increases.
Conversely, proponents claim, in a managed colony with cats that have been altered, they do not reproduce and the colony becomes smaller over time.
Christi Metropole, executive director of the Stray Cat Alliance, agrees.
“The important issue here is we are a humane city,” said Metropole, “and starving cats who are used to being fed is inhumane.”
“The ordinances that the City of Beverly Hills enacted in 2009 to regulate the feeding and care of community cats were designed to fail because of one provision in the approval process for issuance of permits,” said Tauscher. “Beverly Hills Municipal Code Section 5-2-508 states that a permit will be approved unless, among other things, an application is incomplete, it doesn’t comply with the requirements of the codes, or the City receives a letter from one neighbor who lives adjacent to a feeder and objects to the location. That last provision dooms the whole program by allowing the subjective opinion of one person to control whether or not a permit is issued to someone who wants to care for community cats. The determination of whether to issue a permit should be based on objective criteria; in fact, the law even says it is, where it states that, ‘The determination of whether to issue a permit is a ministerial action.’ In the law, a ministerial action is one that is objective and not subject to anyone’s discretion, but this ordinance clearly hinges on the opinion of one complaining person.”
Tauscher added: “Unless the City of Beverly Hills is ready to concede that their whole TNR program is a failure and scrap it, they’re going to have to work with people who want to care for community cats and residents to find locations to make it work.”
In Beverly Hills specifically, the feral cat population helps to manage and reduce the rat population in the City.
Assistant City Manager George Chavez has worked with the Stray Cat Alliance to try to help Varjian and the cats.
The City wants to “move” the colony. However, cat colonies, said Metropole, don’t change their neighborhoods.
As Varjian’s parent organization, they have filed all the paper work for a permit. The City then sent letters to all the neighbors and received unverified complaints that she did not use the feeding station, which is poorly maintained by the City.
At press time, neither Chavez, nor City Attorney Larry Wiener could be reached for comment.