This was one of only two cats we spotted during multiple visits to Dover's Commercial Parkway business district. A group known as the cat ladies were running a trap, neuter and return, or TNR, program in the area until a complaint shut down their operation. (Photo by Stacey Carmany, Tusco TV)
Dover, Ohio - A Dover business is finding itself at the center of a social media controversy over a colony of stray cats and a group's efforts to care for them.
Anjum Azhar is the owner of 77 Inn & Grill on Commercial Parkway. He says he's come under fire recently for putting up ‘do not feed the cats’ signs and asking a group known as the cat ladies to stay off his property. Azhar says he appreciates what the group is trying to accomplish with their trap, neuter, and return program, but he says he also has to run his business.
“I have actually online reviews from guests who stayed here and they mentioned the cat problem, and we’re in the business where when you’re traveling, you look at those reviews," he says. "Imagine that the customer’s coming after the room after staying overnight and the next thing they know they come out and they get welcomed by 20 cats in front of the door. That’s not the thing you want.”
Azhar says he's also being blamed for a complaint that got Dover Police involved in the situation and the cat ladies banned from the area. He says he didn’t make the complaint, but he doesn’t think the group’s approach has been helping the cat problem.
“If they’re going to be walking in the parking lot because, of course, they’re getting fed in that area. Now, they’re looking for food all the time. That has caused me business over the years, but I let go. I was just like, okay, no problem, let’s handle that. But now when I’m getting this addressed by the local city, I have to take actions,” he says.
Members of the group say they haven't been back to the area since they were warned by police that they were breaking the law. Their leader says she’s worried the cat population is going to skyrocket if she can't go back to trapping.
“I’m afraid right now - I have not trapped in two weeks - that in another month I’ll come in here and see about 30 kittens. I will trap the kittens. I will get them to safety. I don’t know what else to do. I’m just very concerned about the population we will have, especially this summer coming in,” she says. (The retired Dover senior asked to remain anonymous because she doesn't want people would look her up and start dropping cats off at her house.)
Tuscarawas County Humane Society President Rhonda Rosenberry says the group is providing a valuable service to the community by keeping the cats disease-free and preventing them from reproducing.
"While they’re under getting neutered and spayed, they’re getting up to date on all their vaccines, they’re getting a rabies vaccine, so it’s the best option for our cities with now we have a rabies ordeal going on and they’re looking for a cat in New Phila," she says. "It’s the best thing that could happen, otherwise, they’re just going to be sick and neglected and rabies and producing at large quantities."
Rosenberry says they want to get together with city leaders and the business owners in the area to find a way to keep the program going.
"At this point, it’s the only option. It’s the only humane option we have," she says. "The humane society, of course, is in favor of trap, neuter, and return, because the only other option is a trap and euthanize which no city, township or county is going to foot the bill for that."
Azhar has since taken down the signs that sparked the controversy. He says he wants to work with the cat ladies and the humane society to try to come up with a solution.
“We need to sit down in a civilized manner and say, you know what, we have this problem, and you have a business to run, we are cat lovers and we are the humane society, let’s figure out a solution. That’s the right way to do it. I’m sure we can figure something out,” he says.
Dover police say the group's program violates the state's animal abandonment law and the city's ordinance on animals running at large.