Owners who let pets illegally roam outside have F-M officers herding cats
“There’s a lot of cats roaming the streets,” Fargo’s Community Service Officer LaVern Aventi said. She estimates that a CSO might spend around 50% of their time on animal control.
FARGO — “One night, I whistled and I whistled for him, and I didn’t find him,” Zach Scheet said of his cat, Ronin, who was allowed to roam freely outside.
He found Ronin’s body later that day on Fourth Street in Fargo; he’d been killed by a car.
“The part that just breaks my heart (is whether) he was out there still alive and wounded and meowing for me,” Scheet said.
It was a difficult decision as to whether he would allow his next cat, Boba, to roam outside his Fargo home. The decision was compounded by the fact that it is illegal to have outdoor cats in the cities of Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth, according to city ordinances.
Ultimately, Scheet felt the risk of heartbreak was outweighed by Boba's quality of life.
Cats are predators, Scheet said, whose instincts make them long for nature. He feels that boredom and depression are why he frequently sees overweight house cats but never overweight outdoor cats.
Boba spends his days hunting bunnies that swarm to nearby gardens, lounging in the flower bed on his porch and going on walks with his owners.
Scheet knows the risks of keeping an outdoor cat, however.
“I always make sure I pet his head before he goes, because I do know something bad can happen,” he said.
Panda, an indoor/outdoor cat in Moorhead, once returned home covered in scratches that owner Jeremy Fahleen believes she may have gotten from a cat fight.
While Fahleen was conflicted about allowing his cat to roam when they first moved to Moorhead from Fargo, Panda, his two-year-old cat, was so accustomed to going outside at that point that she’d beg to be let out the door.
“She gets moody if she wants to go outside and you’re not letting her," Fahleen said.
While outside, Panda is an avid hunter. She catches rabbits, mice and birds, Fahleen said.
Cats are presumed to be one of the greatest threats to native bird populations here in the United States, according to the American Bird Conservatory . Technically an invasive species, the Conservatory states outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year in the U.S. and have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles.
“She enjoys running long distances, climbing and hunting,” Fahleen said. “I understand … the risk (of letting her outside), but I don’t want to cage her up; she’s always had the drive to go outside.”
Another indoor/outdoor cat, Puf, also spends her days exploring her Fargo neighborhood and her nights inside her house, cared for by owner Hans Miller.
“I know that she wants to be outside, especially when it's nice out,” Miller said, adding Puf mostly suns herself in the driveway or watches him work in the garage.
While outside she mostly does “cat things,” Miller said, like soaking in the sun and getting in nonviolent standoffs with the neighbor's cat. She doesn’t hunt.
She doesn’t do any harm while outside, Miller said, but he understands why other property owners don’t like outdoor cats in town. If a neighbor told him they didn’t like the cat in his yard, then Puf’s outdoor adventures would change, Miller said.
A bigger problem, as he sees it, is the loose dogs in Fargo.
“What I don’t like is dogs off leashes, just for the well-being of the dog,” Miller said.
He was bitten on the hand while breaking up the fight between his leashed dog and a loose dog while on a walk in Fargo.
In addition, he has caught four loose dogs in the area over the years, Miller said. He saw them all reunited with their owners, three through social media and one through the pound.
Not all owners of missing pets are so lucky, unfortunately.
Alyssa Ludwig, a Moorhead resident, has been searching for her cat Kineo since September when he escaped from her backyard.
“One day, he just hopped the fence and didn't come back,” she said.
Kineo, Greek for wanderer, was unfortunately named, Ludwig said.
“It's been like chasing a ghost,” she said. “There are so many lost cats out there, and it's just truly sad because I know there are people like me who are missing their cats, too.”
She’s posted hundreds of posters throughout town and chased down every lead.
Often, people will call her and tell her that they’ve spotted a black cat, and she will be off, often in the dark, searching a new patch of Moorhead for her missing pet.
As a result, she has called dispatch for two cats, who were brought to the pound. Still, she hasn’t found Kineo.
“We’ve just been chasing a shadow,” Ludwig says. “Someone will call, and we'll get there three minutes later and he’s gone.” There are so many black cats out there that she can never be sure if it was even him in the first place.
Ludwig was planning to move out of the area but says she can’t do that while there is still hope for Kineo.
“We love him so much and miss him with our whole heart,” Ludwig said.
Fargo Community Service Officer LaVern Aventi is one of the officers responsible for dealing with animals found outside throughout Fargo. When someone finds a stray cat, Aventi or another officer is dispatched to bring that animal to the pound.
Those who find animals outdoors or catch a cat in a live-trap are encouraged to call Red River Regional Dispatch Center at 701-451-7660, Aventi said.
In Dilworth, people should not call city employees to remove animals that they have caught using baited traps , according to city ordinance.
“There are days where all of us go to the pound multiple times,” Aventi said. “There’s a lot of cats roaming the streets.” She estimates a CSO might spend around 50% of their time on animal control.
There have been a lot of cats hit by cars recently, Aventi said, and she has cleaned up a lot of deceased animals in Fargo.
After cleanup, they try to contact the owner, if possible, to let them know that their pet has died.
“There is a lot of heartbreak out there if you let your cats roam,” Aventi said.
With busy schedules, Aventi said, CSOs have plenty of other work they could be doing in the community. They would not be upset if they had to chase down fewer cats. She has been bitten by cats twice on the job, something she notes is pretty dangerous to officers because of the high risk of infection inherent in cat bites.
“Our (Fargo's) city ordinance states that anytime dogs or cats leave your yard they have to be on a leash attached to you,” Aventi said. “So, there really shouldn’t be roaming cats or dogs.”
Breaking this ordinance, according to Fargo City Attorney Nancy Morris, may carry a fine even for first offenders. At-large cats are also illegal in West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth, according to their ordinances.
In West Fargo, at-large animals are an infraction, which involves a fine of at least $100 or 10 hours of community service, according to city ordinance.
In Dilworth, unrestrained outdoor pets are a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, up to a $1,000 fine or both, per city ordinance.
In Moorhead, pet owners found to have allowed their cat to roam two or more times in a 12-month period will need to pay a fine to get the animal back from the pound.
West Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth and Fargo ordinances all outline varying costs associated with an owner getting their pet out of the pound.
With first offenders in Fargo, Aventi said, CSOs usually seek to educate pet owners. Repeat offenders will be cited, she said, which includes a mandatory court appearance.
If necessary, a judge can order that the animal be surrendered to the city pound for placement with a rescue, Aventi said. This usually only happens with repeat offenders.
Last year, the pound saw over 1,000 cats pass through their door, of which 849 were not claimed by an owner, according to Heather Clyde, Operations Director at Homeward Animal Shelter.
“Thankfully, no adoptable cats are being euthanized in the pound anymore,” Clyde said. After three days in the pound, the ownership rights of the animal are turned over to the city.
Homeward Animal Shelter took 471 cats from the pound last year.
The number of cats coming through their doors has been trending upward for years, Clyde said, and at least half of the cats they see were found outside.
Fargo Pound Manager Jaime Kallstrom confirmed that the number is growing.
“We have also seen an increase in the number of cats surrendered to the care of the Fargo Pound,” Kallstrom said.
“I don't think there is any good reason that a cat should be allowed to roam wherever it wants,” Clyde said. Cats face a myriad of dangers in the city including traffic, intentional or accidental poisoning, predators, sickness, other cats and people, she said.