It's now OK to take care of feral cat colonies in Las Vegas

Las Vegas' feral cat caretakers can come out of the dark, thanks to a new city ordinance.

Approved unanimously Wednesday by the City Council, the ordinance lets people register feral cat colonies with a private sponsor, as opposed to animal control, and reduces registration red tape.

Backers say the idea is to humanely reduce the city's feral cat population by encouraging people who care for the animals to sign up with a system that ensures cats are sterilized and vaccinated for rabies.

For cat caretakers like Brenda Fermanich it's a chance to express her desire to help distressed animals without worrying she will run afoul of animal control regulations.

"When you see one that is starving and wants food, you give them food," said Fermanich, who estimates that in recent years she has trapped and gotten care for 45 wayward felines. "You want them to be healthy and happy."

The ordinance, sponsored by Ward 1 Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, mimics what is already in place in Clark County.

Under the revised system, people can register cat colonies with volunteer Keith Williams, a retired Nevada Test Site worker, instead of reporting to animal control.

Once registered, Williams and several nonprofit animal welfare groups can help caretakers trap the cats so they can be sterilized, neutered and marked before being released back into the colony.

Williams estimates there are 450 colonies in Southern Nevada, including about 100 in Las Vegas.

"When we go in to help one of these colony caretakers, our first goal is to get every cat spayed and neutered, get them completely out of the kitten business," Williams said.

As a result, "the cats are healthier, better behaved ... and, as time goes by, the numbers drop. It just works."

The previous system in Las Vegas required caretakers not only to register with animal control but also to provide front and profile photos of individual cats.

The animal control aspect made caretakers wary of participating, and the notion of getting feral cats to hold still for photos was impractical.

Under the new system, caretakers can submit descriptions of the cats.

Although the new system is expected to be easier to maintain, it still includes responsibilities for caretakers.

They not only are required to trap existing cats for sterilization and shots, they are expected to trap any new cats that come along.

They also are expected to make an effort to have injured cats treated and do their best to ensure the overall health of the colony.

If a caretaker doesn't fulfill the requirements, the colony can be reported to animal control for enforcement.

"You can't just have a colony of cats," Fermanich said. "You are agreeing to feed them. You are going to agree to check their health. You are going to agree to take them to the veterinarian."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at