The skittish cat that shows up to raid food meant for pets is likely not abused, a stray, abandoned or neglected, but feral. A cat born in the wild, that does not want or seek human contact outside of finding food, and Cabot could have as many as 4,500 living in colonies in the city.

Feral cats, an apparent “end run” around the city prohibition of pit bull terriers, and a pot-bellied pig, dominated the city council agenda meeting Monday.

During the meeting, animal control officer Mike Wheeler told city council members of a program to cope with the issue of feral cats — TNR, or trap, neuter and release.

However, to carry out the program the council must first amend the animal control ordinance to allow releasing an animal, Wheeler said. “As is it now, I cannot release an animal in the city.”

Wheeler said other cities have turned to TNR as an alternative to euthanizing feral, or community cats. Euthanizing has proved to be a time-consuming and expensive means of reducing the cat population, which, ultimately, does not work. “And people just don’t like [euthanizing],” he said.

Wheeler described four categories of cats: indoor, free roaming, abandoned and feral.

All the categories are adoptable, except the feral cats, Wheeler said.

A feral cat has been born and raised in the wild with no close contact with a human. It requires months of effort to domesticate a feral cat, and sometimes it cannot be done.

“Feral cats are unadoptable,” Wheeler said.

But euthanizing feral cats does not work because the cats breed as fast as they are destroyed, Wheeler said.

Euthanizing large numbers of cats on a daily basis is also hard on the staff, Wheeler said.

Also, prohibiting feeding feral cats is counter-productive, Wheeler said. A starving cat is more susceptible to illness and is prone to become a nuisance in its search for food.

Feeding bans are nearly impossible to enforce “… and penalizing kindness is just bad public policy,” Wheeler said.

It is estimated that 23 percent of households in the U.S. actively feed community cats, Wheeler said.

Other residents are likely to be unaware of feral cats in the area, Wheeler said. The cats are reclusive, stay out of sight and shy away from people.

However, based on studies and experience in cities similar to Cabot, the feral cat population in city limits could be as many as 4,500, Wheeler said.

Many cities that have followed a TNR program have seen a reduction in cat complaints, Wheeler said.

A captured feral cat is neutered and vaccinated, but before being released the cat’s ears are “tipped,” Wheeler said. “That way I can see that a cat has been caught before and leave it alone.”

Ed Long, chairman of the Public Works Committee, told Wheeler to have recommendations of changes to the animal control ordinance to present at the January, 2014, committee meeting.

In another issue, Wheeler told council members of an apparent “loophole” in the city’s pit bull ordinance. Some people are declaring their dogs to be Spanish alanos, a breed nearly indiscernible from pit bull terriers but not prohibited from the city.

Wheeler said the breed was thought to be extinct, but about 100 years ago a few remnants were found in remote areas of Spain, and breeding resumed. It has been only recently that some have been brought to the U.S. for breeding, he said.

The city’s prohibition is of pit bull terriers and combinations with pit bulls, he said.

Wheeler said it is his belief that recent encounters with owners of what is claimed to be Spanish alanos are actually pit bulls.

Even DNA testing is questionable because many testing labs are reluctant to declare a dog to have pit bull lineage knowing the action could lead to removal from a home or destruction.

The difference is that although nearly identical to a pit bull terrier, Spanish alanos have no terrier lineage, Wheeler said. “They are from mastiffs,” he said.

However, the dogs are similar in looks, size, temperament and characteristics, Wheeler said.

Long told Wheeler to confer with the city attorney and whatever sources needed to develop a recommendation for the ordinance.

A third animal issue was brought up during public comment by resident Mary Burks, who said she has been cited for having a pot-bellied pig. Burks asked the committee to amend the animal control ordinance to allow the breed.

Pot-bellied pigs are not livestock, or agricultural, animals as set out in the ordinance, she said.

Following discussion the Burks was given an extension on the 30 days called for in the ordinance to remove the pig while the city attorney is consulted.