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Feral cats in Beverly Hills get a reprieve, but one caretaker could face jail time for feeding them

Feral cats

The issue of feral cats is a hot-button one in Beverly Hills, where a resident, 65-year-old Katherine Varjian, could face jail time as a result of caring for a colony of the homeless animals.  Varjian has routinely fed a group of 20 to 30 cats in an alley in her Beverly Hills neighborhood for the past 12 years, often taking adults to be spayed or neutered and helping to place kittens in adoptive homes.

For many animal lovers, Varjian's work is commendable.  But to the neighbors who signed a petition asking the Beverly Hills City Council to put a stop to her feral-cat activities, it's unhygienic at best and dangerous at worst.  They say cat food attracts pests, from big (coyotes, which they argue put neighborhood pets at risk) to small (cockroaches). 

Varjian has been cited twice this year for feeding the cats, an offense that could bring a penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.  At the heart of the issue is a municipal code that was mistakenly removed when Beverly Hills adopted some animal control ordinances from the City of Los Angeles.  The deleted code prohibited the feeding of feral cats and dogs on public property, according to the Beverly Hills Courier:

In an effort to streamline practices when handling animal control, the City retained the City of Los Angeles' Animal Services Department for certain animal care and control services, consequently adopting their ordinances.

"As part of the adoption of the Los Angeles animal control regulations, provisions of the Beverly Hills Municipal Code that were designed to prevent the feeding of animals ... in such a manner that attracts coyotes and other predatory animals or otherwise endangers the health, safety and welfare of the general public, were inadvertently deleted," said Cheryl Burnett, city spokesperson.

In effect, Varjian was being charged under a nonexistent code; her attorney has requested that the charges against her be dropped for this reason, the Courier reported.

At a City Council meeting last week, officials considered the issue of the "missing" municipal code and heard from speakers on both sides of the issue.  But a decision was not forthcoming; instead, the City Council moved to reconsider the issue at an Aug. 4 meeting

It also tasked a group of Beverly Hills residents and cat rescuers with coming up with a plan to address the feral cat issue -- but, according to the Courier, it threatened simply to add the missing wording back to the city's municipal code, once again banning the feeding of ferals on public property, if a compromise couldn't be reached.

As for Varjian, she'll return to Beverly Hills Municipal Court on Aug. 7.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Feral cats are fed at a Stockton, Calif., park.  Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press

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What the lazy uneducated people in that Beverly Hills neighborhood do not understand is that Ms. Varjian was not just feeding the cats. She took her own money and time to neuter all of them and find homes for ones she could. If not for her, there would be 200 cats in their area. Some appreciation these spoiled people show. Everyone should be educated about TNR. It's not about "animal lovers" it's about being responsible citizens of which Ms. Varjian is one. I can't say the same for the ignorant people in that neighborhood.

these people are DISGUSTING
you would think that since they have a plethora of funds and live beyond comfortable that they could have more compassion yet these BH hills residents are hedonistic and selfish as well as asking caring animal lovers to be jailed
The people in Beverly Hills are bored, miserable and lost souls.I hope they have the same done to them that they are
inflicting on innocent animals and good people,

Katherine Varjian obviously adores those cats, her neighbors don't. Her rights to attract and feed unwanted pets ends where her neighbor's property rights begin! If I were them I would be busily trapping and transporting cats to the nearest animal control, as I do on my own property each day.

That is ridiculous. Shame on you Beverly Hills.

Disgustingly ignorant to fail to see the positive in this lady's actions. Her care is the ONLY reason you morons are not completely overrun with feral cats. Get off your pompous check books and defray her expenses so she can get the rest of these animals fixed or you will not like what becomes of your neighborhood with road kill in the streets and not one bird or other small critter left to see. Cats of all sizes are consummate hunters and will rid your property of everything edible in very short order. I love them but also understand their husbandry, My cats are 300 pounds and up.

It is not so simple for Beverly Hills just to add back in an ordinance that was deleted. That ordinance was deleted because the precondition for LA Animal Services to provide BH with services was that they have exactly the same animal ordinances as LA. That's why the feral feeding ban was deleted, it was not inadvertent at all. BH staff, like all city staff everywhere, are trained to lie as needed.

I have written LA Council and the Mayor to revoke LA's animal services contract with BH if they re-insert that ordinance. Below is that letter and the URL of LA's contract with Beverly Hills.

The March 31, 2008 Memorandum of Understanding between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills regarding the provision of animal care services is attached.

A requirement of this contract was that Beverly Hills was to adopt Los Angeles' animal codes.

Beverly Hills is considering adding an ordinance banning the feeding of feral cats. Such an ordinance would create a health hazard of starving and sick cats which could spill over into Los Angeles.

It is also antithetical to the pursuit of establishing a TNR policy for the City of Los Angles, who currently is conducting a CEQA study regarding the environmental effects of TNR.

For this reason, I urge the Mayor, Council, the City Attorney and LAAS to revoke this animal services contract with Beverly Hills should they pass the ordinance banning feeding feral cats as per the agreement, within 90 days of the ordinance's passge.


I live a few blocks away form the location in question and we had a potential problem with abandoned cats and kittens in our area several years ago. Katherine Varjian came and assisted me in trapping all the cats and kittens and she had them all spayed and neutered at her own expense. She found homes for all the kittens, and I have continued to feed and maintain the good health of the adults that we could not place. The Trap Neuter Release TNR program really does work, and feeding the cats is a vital part of the program. It is the most effective, humane way of controlling the cat population in our cities.
To the Beverly Hills residents who signed the petition; I hear your concerns, but please try to work with Ms Varjian and all the others who do this important work, and try not hinder their efforts. If this law is reinstated, it will be a huge step backward.

I have read the petition that was presented to you and the person who has spearheaded this "crusade" against Ms Varjian has filled the petition with half-truths, distortions and misrepresented the facts. Please do not allow yourselves to be fooled by someone who has her own agenda.
The TNR program really does work. We witnessed it's success firsthand.

To the bird advocate; I'm an avid bird lover as well, and I also feed them everyday. It is possible to do both. I do not believe one creature should suffer in order to protect another. I hope you understand that when animal control takes the cats you trap away, that they are killed.
Posted by: kerry L |

BirdAdvocate, she is feeding the cats on public property, not on other people's property. And the neighbors that are complaining about her allow their own pet cats to wander around the neighborhood. That's why they're concerned about coyotes. If they would just keep their own cats indoors there would be no problem!

Instead of punishing this compassionate 65 year old animal "caretaker", the city should consider the Trap-Spay/Neuter-Return program in use in millions of neighborhoods and a lot of cities in the U.S. The local SPCA or Humane Society will have information on how to implement one of these programs. That is the only way to stop the overpopulation of feral cats. Will someone please bring this to the City Council's attention before the Aug. 4th meeting and the Aug. 7th court date? Please.


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