Keeping the cats in Catty
Feline Finish Line Rescue finally had its day in front of the Catasauqua Zoning Hearing Board July 12. The nonprofit company, headed by Catherine McCulloch, takes in stray cats, gets them healthy, neuters them and puts them up for adoption. “We have been doing our rescues since 2009,” McCulloch said.
In April, borough Zoning Officer Eugene Goldfeder had cited her for housing more cats than permitted under the borough’s housing code. The borough restricts the number of pets to five in a neighborhood zoned as residential. In April, McCulloch had over 40 cats in her care at her home on Prospect Street and was cited for operating a business out of her home without a permit.
“We didn’t think we needed a permit to operate,” McCulloch said. “We are a nonprofit. We don’t sell cats out of the house or meet with people that want to adopt. There is no business conducted out of the house.”
McCulloch has contracts with area pet stores to put the cats up for adoption at their locations. The company has a contact address on Willow Street in North Catasauqua.
When McCulloch did not respond to Goldfeder’s initial request in December 2015 for her to appear before the zoning board, the situation escalated, with a demand that McCulloch clear the house of cats to avoid fines.
Goldfeder agreed to have the matter settled by the zoning hearing board.
“If we need to approve a variance from the rules, the zoning hearing board is where the decision needs to be made,” he said.
McCulloch came to the hearing with Attorney Timothy Prendergast and two dozen supporters.
Prendergast explained Feline Finish Line Rescue performs a service to the borough.
“The cats brought in are from the borough,” he said. “A large number of cats are abandoned on [Lehigh Valley International Airport] property. Feline Rescue has adopted out over 800 cats that potentially could be roaming the streets of the borough and turn feral,” he said.
Prendergast presented the board with signed statements from neighbors who support the organization and its mission.
McCulloch’s house is adapted for cats with individual cages and freedom to roam.
“We have many volunteers [who] help us keep the house clean and help with the adoptions,” she said.
Prendergast emphasized this was not a money-making company. Costs for the various health procedures, food and care are provided via volunteers and monetary donations. The rescue has an annual budget of $20,000, he said.
The decision was part of a marathon session for the zoning hearing board. Supporters waited for more than three hours before the appeal came up for review. The board evaluated the request from Prendergast to allow McCulloch to keep 26 cats in her house. At the time of the hearing, McCullough had 37 adult cats and 13 kittens. “The kittens are much easier to adopt. The adult cats often have health issues that need to be handled,” McCulloch said.
The board was clearly in a quandary. They acknowledged the service performed by Feline Rescue, and there are no distinct guidelines for cats.
“I do have a concern with a shelter in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” board member Daniel Scheirer said.
After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to approve a variance allowing the shelter to continue, with a list of conditions.
The first restriction limits the number of cats to 10, plus three that are McCulloch’s pets. She will have 45 days to comply with the restrictions.
“I think she ought to work at getting the cats removed now, so she can meet the restrictions,” Goldfeder said after the meeting.
The board also will require a monthly inspection of the premises to be conducted by a code enforcement officer.
“The inspection will ensure that the house is kept sanitary and livable,” Scheirer said. In addition, the board added a requirement that housing cats at McCulloch’s home would end if she sells the house or moves.
There are some additional charges the rescue operation could incur since the zoning hearing board granted it a status as a nonprofit business.
“There are additional fees levied on a business, and we want to look at the costs of trash pickup,” Goldfeder said after the meeting.
The board’s concern is not with what is happening now.
“Everything is fine now, and the neighbors support [McCulloch] in what she is doing,” Scheirer said. “What we need to be watchful of is that she can maintain the rescue effort. What happens if the volunteers don’t show to help clean? We need to be concerned about what happens on an ongoing basis.”