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

July 14, 2009 |  6:35 pm

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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