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Church set to evict feral cats

The peace agreement that had held since last summer between a Baltimore church and a group that advocates for feral cats appears to have broken down, with the pastor saying he'll order a feeding station and two small shelters removed from the property.

The Rev. Reginald Turner, pastor of Northside Baptist Church on East Northern Parkway, said members of the congregation met Sunday and decided to end the arrangement made last August with Alley Cat Allies, a national group based in Bethesda that had acted as mediator in a dispute between the church and several people who have been taking care of a group of cats that have lived for years in a wooded area behind the church.

"My congregation has come to the conclusion they no longer want the cats on the property," said Turner. He and Alley Cat Allies have exchanged phone messages this week, but they have not spoken directly.

"Eviction notices are being served," he said, and repeated complaints he made last summer that the cats are wandering too close to the church, leaving droppings on the lawn and bothering parishioners.

A spokeswoman for Alley Cat Allies said she had no idea there was anything amiss and that she had not heard from Turner until this week, after a reporter told her about the church's decision.

"We had an agreement they would notify us if they had any issues," said Elizabeth Parowski. "We e-mailed him about a month ago to see how everything was going" but received no response, she said.

Parwoski forwarded a copy of the group's e-mail, showing the church's address and a February date, to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

Turner said he had not seen it. He insisted that the group had made no effort to contact him since September.

In a three-page agreement written in August, Alley Cat Allies and the church outlined steps they would take to allow caretakers to continue feeding the cats while trying to keep the animals away from the church.

The church allowed a feeding station to remain on the property but said it must be moved farther back into the trees from the parking lot, toward Chinquapin Parkway. The organization posted signs around the feeding station identifying the cats as part of a "managed colony" that were to be fed only by designated caretakers. A volunteer installed two small shelters near the feeding station, as allowed under the agreement.

The group also placed on the expansive church lawn three battery-operated motion-detection devices that emit a high-pitched noise to keep cats away.

Turner never signed the agreement. He said he was not comfortable committing to an arrangement on paper, and that he considered the understanding "an act of faith."

The agreement scheduled a review in January, when the parties were supposed to decide whether to continue the arrangement. That review never took place.

Turner said with the snow and other more pressing church business, he never got around to contacting Alley Cat Allies.

Whatever Northside Baptist decides, the separation of church and cat won't be quite as simple as issuing a notice of "eviction."

For one thing, there's another feeding station behind the church that does not stand on church property. For another, cats have been living there for years.

Denise Farmer, one of the cat caretakers, said volunteers have been taking scheduled shifts feeding the group of some 25 to 30 cats since 2007.

Farmer said volunteers begain trapping the cats about eight years ago, having them neutered and returning them to the area. That was well before the practice was made Baltimore City policy.

Early last year, new rules went into effect in the city recognizing feral cats as a separate category distinct from "stray" cats, and establishing a system of volunteers working with the city to try to control cat population growth.

Advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States, argue that managing the colonies by having the cats spayed and neutered is a more effective way to reduce their numbers over the long term than trapping and killing them.

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