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Quality of life trumps politics

Date: 4/26/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Holyoke City Councilor Patricia Devine was fairly cheesed at the Tuesday night meeting at which an ordinance concerning controlling feral cats was discussed. She said that remarks about the ordinance and another proposed rule about permitting residents to have chickens had made the Paper City into a "laughingstock."

Her sentiments were echoed by her fellow councilor, Todd McGee, who said his friends in the Boston area wonder about the city when the news they hear about Holyoke is about stray cats and chickens.

McGee noted the city is working on a new senior center and additions and renovations to its library as well as being chosen as the site for the high-speed computing center all issues far more substantial in his mind than cats and chickens.

Several councilors wondered why issues of teen pregnancy and illegal trash disposal did not get the same kind of reaction from the public than these two issues have attracted.

Perhaps it's because these are the kind of immediate quality of life issues that have a way of becoming front and center in one's life. If you have unwanted cats urinating on your property or if your neighbor's illegal rooster keeps waking you up at sunrise, you're bound to focus on these situations.

These problems are not just Holyoke's feral cats are an issue throughout the region. And with a renewed interest in keeping chickens in the city, I'm sure more and more people will be facing that 5 a.m. wake-up call.

Other councilors expressed a pragmatic criticism to both ordinances who is going to enforce them? Councilor Kevin Jourdain noted the city doesn't pursue property owners who don't pay real estate taxes with tax liens and yet the feral cats ordinance carries a $100 fine for the outdoor feeding of cats. He and others wondered if this was going to be yet another unenforced law again, a good point and one that pertains to more communities than Holyoke.

My wife and I presently have six cats. All, with the exception of one, were cats abandoned in our neighborhood. We have taken these and others to the vet for care and have been responsible for them.

We didn't dump these cats. We didn't allow them to reproduce. We cleaned up the mess created by other people.

For us, the issue here really is one of personal responsibility. Do people believe that living in a city affords a person a certain level of anonymity, so they can behave the way they like?

So it's okay to dump a pregnant cat or keep a dog chained in the yard night and day? I have a neighbor who is running his truck or a generator on his truck 24 hours a day. Why is that acceptable? Or how about the family near me who has an unlicensed kennel and dog breeding business? Or the idiot teen who recently drove an ATV down my street as fast as he could? Or the folks who still think I need to hear their crappy music playing from their cars when I'd rather listen to my television?

I had a neighbor who would sit in his front yard revving his motorcycle and shouting at the top of his lungs, "Damn! This [big time expletive deleted] thing is loud!"

These are life-shorteners, folks.

The former nursing home building down the street from us is a site for illegal dumping. The city regularly removes mattresses and tires from the property, but one has to ask if the nominal fees the city charges for such pick-ups are the only reason people do this. Or is it that some people just don't care?

I opt for that answer.

Perhaps the bigger question is how do we get people to care about their behavior? How do we breed personal responsibility into people? Can it be taught?

The problem is being a self-centered slob is a whole lot easier than doing the right thing.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.