The cats aren't in the bag, and for some, that's a problem.
For Dan Bankey and his wife, Elaine, feeding a colony of stray cats behind the Wendy's restaurant on Galvin Road had become a daily ritual. One of them would pull into the parking lot, clean up the previous day's now empty cans of cat food and open fresh ones.
They would leave bowls of fresh water next to the shelters Dan Bankey had crafted out of wood and plastic storage bins for the cats.
The Bankeys have done this nearly every day for the past three years in an attempt, as Elaine Bankey put it, to humanely thin out the clowder of cats by first earning their trust, then trapping, spaying or neutering them, and finally releasing the cats back into their home in the wild.
“By that point we had processed 17 cats, including rabies shots,” Elaine Bankey said. “Four we found homes for.”
But on July 7, the Bankeys removed the shelters after being told of littering complaints received by the Bellevue Code Enforcement division of the police department.
Dan Bankey said it was a peaceful coexistence between himself, Wendy's, and the cats for the last few years. But complaints started coming in, so code enforcement instructed the Bankeys to cancel their care efforts.
Management personnel at the Wendy's restaurant joined in making complaints.
The Bankeys moved the makeshift shelter last year to be further away from Wendy's, placing it in a clump of trees behind a nearby Kwik Stop. However, Wendy's owns that property, too. Code enforcement again ordered the Bankeys to stop.
Nebraska Humane Society Field Director Kristie Biodrowski said NHS has responded to complaints in the past at that location, and they met with code enforcement to discuss the situation. Biodrowski said the cats have not been removed from the area.
“There are feral cat associations that allow the trapping, spaying, and re-release back out into the colony to help alleviate the situation inside Omaha,” she said. “Eventually the colony dies out over time.”
Bellevue's leash law, she said, makes caring for feral cats a gray area, legally speaking. It is up to the individual if they wish to deal with a clowder on their property, but NHS does not want to advocate such activity if it means trespassing on private property to do so.
“We recommend trying to get the property owner's permission to be on that property if the individual wants to take care of or trap the cats and bring them to a shelter,” she said.
Kathy Saniuk, a Bellevue councilwoman, was made aware of the situation and has submitted a change to Bellevue's animal ordinance to the city's attorney. The leash law already in effect in Bellevue makes anyone who is trapping and releasing the cats in violation of the law, she said.
An ordinance update is needed to exempt groups, like the Bankeys, from unwillingly breaking the law.
“Their case was the first I had heard of at the time, but since then I have found out there is another colony somewhere, so I want this law to go ahead and get sent through council,” she said. “You will still need permission of the landowner, but violating the leash law will no longer be a concern.”