Cat shelter gets a hiss from Catty zoning officer
It might seem like cats are having a tough time in and around Catasauqua lately. “It wasn’t really about cats at all,” said Catasauqua’s Zoning Officer Eugene Goldfeder. “We were notified that there was a business in operation on Prospect Street, and I went to investigate.” What Goldfeder found was a business that the proprietor claimed was a charitable business that houses and supports cats. Catherine McCulloch has been running Feline Finish Line Rescue since 2009.
“The borough understands it is a nonprofit and doing a service to the community,” Goldfeder told The Press. He continued that any business in the borough must have a permit. “If this was an office of United Way, we would have the same requirements,” he said.
McCulloch has a different take.
“We have cats at the house, but we don’t use this as a place of business. All of our adoptions are made at pet stores,” she said. According to McCulloch, pet stores no longer associate with “puppy mill” suppliers. Animals up for adoption in pet stores are mostly rescues.
She usually places about 100 cats a year in foster homes.
“All this publicity has helped a little. We placed 42 so far this year,” she said.
According to Goldfeder, who is also the borough executive, McCulloch was told to acquire a permit from the borough’s zoning hearing board in December 2015.
“If the zoning hearing board granted her request or denied the request is not for me to address; they make the decision,” Goldfeder said. “My job is to present the facts to the board.”
As no permit was sought or acquired, the business was cited for operating without a permit in March.
“When these requests are ignored, I don’t have many options,” Goldfeder said. As zoning officer, Goldfeder issued a ruling denying the business.
“It is a business in a residential area, and there are no provisions for an animal shelter in a residential area,” he said.
McCulloch told The Press Monday she did not know how to interpret the initial letter she received from the borough.
“We didn’t know what we were to cease and desist from because all of our adoptions were at pet stores,” she said. An attorney advised her to get rid of the cats because the borough would never approve keeping them.
McCulloch said she wanted to investigate further but ran out of time.
“We perform a service to the borough by taking these cats in and getting them adopted,” she said. “And we want to make sure the cats are healthy, so they can be adopted.”
Once the zoning officer makes his ruling, the business owner has the right to appeal the ruling within 30 days.
“She didn’t appeal the ruling. My ruling stands,” Goldfeder said.
McCulloch took her case to court.
In Goldfeder’s experience with similar situations, judges have ruled in favor of the borough because the 30 days available for appeal had expired.
“We aren’t anti-cat or opposed to animal shelters. We need to know what businesses are in the area and let neighbors speak out on their thoughts,” Goldfeder said.
McCullough received additional legal advice recently. She said she will file a request to the zoning hearing board. Although Goldfeder has contact with McCulloch’s attorney, no request for a hearing has been submitted.
“The earliest we could get a hearing board together is June,” he said.
McCulloch now wants to delay the court hearing scheduled for May 12 until after she asks for the variance from the zoning board.
She says borough council President Vincent Smith is working with McCulloch and her attorney to get all the necessary paperwork in order.