- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - For nearly 20 years, Chris and James Conklin haven’t had a problem feeding and occasionally sheltering the feral cats that come and go from their lakeside property.

But now, those days are gone.

Since November, the couple has been warned twice by mail that they’re in violation of a zoning ordinance that prohibits residential property owners from keeping more than five domestic animals.

The Conklins, whose property is in unincorporated Elkhart County near Ideal Beach, care for about a dozen feral cats, Chris Conklin told The Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/1jOfOlp ).

She’s puzzled by the letters, which were prompted by a neighbor’s complaint.

“We’ve had cats here for 15 or 20 years. I don’t know who made the complaint, but I’m not gonna have them put to sleep just because somebody don’t like animals,” she said.

The Conklins have been given the option of appealing the violation or applying for an exception to the ordinance. Otherwise, they need to reduce the number of cats on their property or potentially face fines.

Members of the Elkhart County Feral Cat Coalition now have stepped in and are hoping to challenge the ordinance, fearing it could negatively impact the county’s entire free-roaming cat population.

“Our program is going to be in big jeopardy if this is allowed, because they can tell anyone in the county, then, that you have to apply for a special use variance, which they could very well turn down,” Chris Bralick, president of the Elkhart County Feral Cat Coalition, said.

If that happens, she said, the coalition may have to revert to destroying feral cats rather than using the trap, neuter and return system aimed at reducing the county’s feral cat population. They’ve helped the Conklins spay and neuter 11 cats since March.

The coalition is now working with an attorney to challenge the ordinance.

The coalition said the ordinance is in conflict with the county’s animal control ordinance, which states that colony caretakers “shall not be considered nor deemed to be the owner of the free-roaming cats cared for in the colony.”

Despite the animal control ordinance, County Commissioner Mike Yoder said the zoning ordinance still stands.

“I don’t think it’s a situation where one overrules. Two laws that conflict, that’s not an unusual situation. One ordinance seems to be dealing with the matter of ownership only, the other ordinance is use of land,” he said.

“The problem is, the folks are trying to make a link between ownership and land use … that’s not always exactly the same thing,” he said.

As for the coalition’s concerns about the ordinance’s impact on other feral cat caretakers, Yoder said enforcement comes down to complaints.

“I’ve got people all over the county violating ordinances. Everything is complaint-driven,” he said.

If the Conklins decide to appeal, there will be a public hearing before the Elkhart County Board of Zoning Appeals. For now, the coalition plans continue talks with its attorney, the Conklins and the zoning board.


Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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