Cook County Record

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Appeals panel sides with Cook County in dispute over feral cat ordinances

By Kenneth Lowe | Jan 8, 2014


A Cook County village overstepped its statutory authority when it tried to restrict the creation of "feral cat colonies," an appeals panel held.

In an unpublished order issued Dec. 27, the First District Appellate Court affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of Cook County and against the Village of Bridgeview in a dispute over conflicting ordinances regulating feral cat colonies.

Justice Shelvin Louise Marie Hall delivered the court's order, in which Justices Mary K. Rochford and Jesse Reyes concurred.

Cook County sued the village for enacting an April 2009 ordinance that prevented its residents from creating the colonies, something the county allows. The village argued it had the authority to create the ordinance under home rule authority.

As part of the Illinois Animal Control Act, county governments have been empowered to prevent the spread of rabies and to humanely cull the population of stray animals.

In 2007, Cook County passed an ordinance allowing feral cat colonies, habitats that are run by volunteers under the supervision of humane societies and used to house stray felines with the aim of vaccinating, neutering and releasing the homeless creatures.

The county's suit sought a declaration that Bridgeview lacked the statutory and home rule authority to enact the anti-feral cat colony ordinance, as well as an injunction prohibiting the village from enforcing it.

On appeal from the circuit court's ruling in favor of the county, the village argued that even if it lacked home rule authority to enact the ordinance, it had statutory authority to do so, an argument the appeals panel rejected.

"Bridgeview has the authority to adopt provisions prohibiting feral cats from running at large, or it can impose further, stricter requirements than those imposed by the county," Hall wrote on behalf of the panel.

"However," she added, "Bridgeview exceeded its authority ... by making it unlawful to operate feral cat colonies within its corporate limits."

Speaking to the issue of home rule authority, Hall explained that the panel considered which of the two governments had a greater interest and a more traditional responsibility in executing the law, pointing out that counties have been charged by the state with animal control and preventing the spread of rabies since the current Animal Control Act of 1973.

She also pointed to Donna Alexander, a veterinarian and the administrator of the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control Department who testified at her circuit court deposition that the spread of rabies by feral cats isn't just a problem for one municipality, but the entire state.

In her testimony, Alexander described feral cats as "free-roaming animals knowing no political boundaries" and said the village's prohibition on the feral cat colonies could affect the ability of bordering municipalities to deal with the same issue.

Alexander said feral cat colonies provide an important tool in the county's handling of strays, saying they have drastically lowered the number of wayward animals that county personnel have needed to euthanize; something she said can cost taxpayers $135 per cat.

She estimated that trap, neuter and release programs like feral cat colonies have saved the county about $1.5 million since they began.

"The [Illinois] General Assembly has determined that the issues of animal control, overpopulation and the control of rabies are more effectively addressed at the county level," Hall wrote. "Counties have greater geographical reach and thus can more comprehensively and effectively address feral cat control than local municipalities."

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