Private cat shelter remains unlicensed

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:55

    Sussex-Despite a show of support by students and animal lovers at the last meeting of the Sussex Planning Board, the future of C.L.A.W.S. (Cat Lovers Adopt Wantage-Sussex), the cat rescue shelter run by Laurie and Stan Walsh, remains uncertain. With 18 supporters behind her, Laurie Walsh asked the board to allow her to continue to operate her backyard shelter that houses an average of 60 cats at any one time. Walsh, who left her job to care for the animals, has been told that she can not continue to operate without the proper governmental approvals, including a zoning variance. Walsh came to the board for a variance to have a shelter in her yard, but the board attorney, Edward Trawinski, said that without proper application, the board could not take any steps toward granting a variance, and, further, that Walsh would first have to go before the council to obtain a license to run an animal shelter. Walsh told the board that the borough clerk told her the muncipal code requires a license to operate a shelter for dogs, but not for cats. But Trawinski quoted from the code book specifically defining "cats" as "animals" in the ordinance. He said that if Walsh had been told that no license was required to run a shelter for cats, it was incorrect and gave her a copy of the code. Walsh, a former member the planning board, had a copy of minutes from the board's meeting of last Oct. 14, which stated: "A letter was received from the county Board of Health in regard to the operation of board member Laurie Walsh's cat rescue. A discussion followed and it was recommended the existing ordinance needed to be reviewed and revised." Walsh feels that the minutes suggest that the ordinance had been changed since the time she initially approached the borough about licensure. But the attorney insisted that the planning board had no jurisdiction over her situation, and that she had to present her case to the council and the board of health before the planning board could consider an application for a variance to operate the shelter. Walsh said that false complaints had been called into the borough, one being that she was "running a profitable business." She presented the board members with statistics of how many animals she has rescued at a personal expense of $21,000. Mayor Katherine Little read a letter from Jim Doherty, who has invited the borough to control the feral cat population by participating in a trap, neuter and release program, as reported in The Advertiser News on Jan. 13. "TNR is not a cure-all," said Walsh, "and it will not solve the population problem." She also said that veterinarians hesitate to participate in Doherty's program because their compensation is so low, they are financially constrained from taking part in the program.