Feral-feline acrimony spills over into Manti City Council meeting
By John Hales
Oct. 6, 2017
MANTI—A dispute between two neighbors over cats has spilled over into the chambers of the Manti City Council.
One neighbor says the other has too many feral cats. The other says he’s rescuing the animals, and since the conflict escalated over the summer, some of the cats have gone missing, while others have either turned up dead, or been poisoned and needed to be euthanized.
“I don’t know how people can hate an animal that is so loving,” said James Valko, explaining his side of the situation at a Wednesday, Sept. 20 meeting.
It was the second time in a month Valko had met with the council. By said he finds and takes care of stray cats and orphaned kittens, has them spayed or neutered, makes sure the get veterinary shots, and tries to find homes for them.
A Marine Corps veteran, he says he provides companion animals for other veterans who have been released from the VA hospital. “I’ve got guys who take my kittens all the time,” he said.
Manti City Administrator Kent Barton confirmed after the meeting that the city had received a complaint about the cats some time ago. Apparently, the complaint was that Valko kept too many cats, that they constituted a nuisance, and that they were defecating on the complainant’s lawn.
Bryan Bies, the zoning and nuisance officer, investigated and informed Valko the city has an ordinance that sets a limit of three cats per residence.
“A cat is not a nuisance. I’ve been told that they’re trespassing. That’s the silliest thing I heard in my life,” Valko told the council.
He denied the allegation that the cats used his neighbor’s lawn as a litterbox. “Cats don’t squat on the grass,” he said. “They dig.”
He said that’s one reason a large part of his one-acre lot is dirt—so the cats can dig, do their business and cover it up.
Valko said he went around his neighborhood asking people if they had a problem with the cats. “I had only one complaint,” he said, presumably from the same individual who contacted the city.
Valko did not accuse that person directly of being responsible for the missing or dead cats, but said, “If I find out who’s killing the cats, I’m going to send them to prison, because there’s a law, and I found out about that.”
Barton assured Valko that the city had not picked up any cats from his neighborhood, “and the city would never poison a cat,” he said.
Barton reiterated that assurance on Friday, Sept. 22.
“If there’s a situation where somebody’s poisoning cats there, we certainly want to know about that,” he said.
As for any action regarding the situation, Barton said the city is in a wait-and-see mode. Valko has requested to speak to the council again when he could bring someone from “Friends,” the rescue organization he works with.
“I’d like to find out if he’s legitimately working with them,” Barton said. “If somebody is doing any type of rescue work, we’d certainly want to be cooperative and work with that, but we want to know exactly what’s going on.”
While many people may be familiar with the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, the “Friends” group Valko was referring is more likely Furry Friends Animal Sanctuary, an organization based in Ephraim “comprised of a diverse group of Sanpete County citizens,” according to information found in an online animal shelter directory.
In other business at the council meeting, Barton reported that a proposed property trade with the Utah National Guard was going ahead as planned, with land titles to be exchange in early October.
The city is giving 30 acres of land south of town to the Guard, while the Guard in return is giving Manti property in the 100 North 100 East area. Barton said the city plans to use the Guard property for the Public Works Department.
The council also discussed allowing the Resource Clothing Bank to move into a city-owned building as the clothing bank’s organizer, Nancy Bean, had requested in a previous meeting.
Council members, along with Mayor Soper and Barton, were willing to allow the move but felt the building needed to be evaluated for safety and structural soundness first.