The story could be the opening paragraph in an Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Stephen King novel: “It was a warmer than normal spring in central west Texas when cats began disappearing around the city of Ballinger. The quiet, central west Texas town centered around agriculture, fertilizer and metal buildings was having cats disappear at an alarming rate. No one knows why they began disappearing, but it all started during that warm spring in 2020.”

More seriously, some of the felines have also allegedly been poisoned and/or abducted.

While it sounds like a Penny Dreadful dime store mystery, it’s a serious situation.

The story began with a social media post on the Facebook group, Rants and Raves of Ballinger TX when someone brought up the subject about people trapping cats in the 9th street area of Ballinger. The post alleges that approximately 20 cats were abducted and that 2 cats were spayed/neutered without the owner’s permission and then returned. The City of Ballinger Animal Control officer as well as resident Chad Hardy legally capture cats that wander the streets and have them spayed or neutered and then return them to the area where they were captured. The cats that have been “fixed” are readily identifiable because they have been tipped (the tip of an ear clipped) making them easily identifiable. Hardy said that he spoke with the Ballinger Animal Control Officer, Julie Parsons, and said that the city hasn’t been trapping cats since March 19th due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hardy, who is the former director of KittiCo Cat Rescue in Dallas, has been looking into the cat disappearances. Hardy says that one of his cats was poisoned, “We know that one of my cats was poisoned because it was confirmed by 2 different veterinarians. I also have a neighbor whose cat was poisoned.”

Hardy also says that he knows of cats that have disappeared, “Over behind Paske Tire & Lube there were 5 or 6 feral cats that had all been spayed or neutered. About 6 weeks ago they all went missing. Over in the 800 block of 9th street 12 or more cats went missing 7 days ago. All of them disappeared in the span of 2 days.” Hardy and others suspect that the cats were baited, “A neighbor found some ground beef by a dumpster in the 700 block of 11th street. They said that they think it was poisoned because of the way it was set out. The person who found the ground beef disposed of it.”

Cats have also gone missing from Sharp Avenue and other areas throughout the city. The argument can be made that if you don’t want the city to trap your cats, keep them in your own home or yard. That brings up the discussion about tags. Many people don’t put collars and city tags on their cats, so even if it had been the city doing the capturing, they would have had no way of knowing who the cats belonged to.

None of that excuses someone with nefarious intentions going around illegally capturing or poisoning the felines.

So far the estimated number of missing cats hovers around 35. Another 15 or so were allegedly trapped as they roamed the streets and alleys and were spayed or neutered by an unknown person who then returned them to the same area from where they were captured. At this time the only thing the city knows is that it wasn’t the city that trapped the cats.

Spaying and neutering cats and dogs is mandatory in some cities and states now. Hardy says that spaying and neutering can help in more ways than just population control, “TNR – Trap, Neuter, Return, is one of the best ways to control cat populations. Spaying and neutering reduces the spraying, marking and roaming of cats and it reduces aggression in dogs and reduces the risk of cancer in dogs. Spaying or neutering can actually increase a dog’s lifespan by 3-5 years.” Hardy says that the numbers are hard to argue with, “1 in 20 cats and dogs end up in shelters each year. The total number of animals in shelters annually for the US is approximately 8,000,000. Of those, 3.7 million will be euthanized each year. 35% of pet owners do NOT spay or neuter their animals. In 3 years one unspayed female dog and 1 unneutered male dog can produce 500 offspring. Two cats can produce 382 offspring.”

As for the missing and poisoned cats, each animal cruelty charge is a felony in Texas so if there were 20 cats poisoned, it could possibly entail 20 felony charges. An animal cruelty charge is a State-Jail Felony, punishable by up to 2 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

As far as allowing cats and dogs to wander free, it is against the Ballinger City Code.

Sec. 6-91. Unlawful possession-running at large prohibited.

“Dogs or other animals running at large as defined in Sec. 6-31 are prohibited.

The Ballinger Code Book states that it is illegal for any animal to ‘run at large,’ and defines it as: “An animal off the premises of the owner and not under the physical, visible, or audible control of the owner or his authorized representative. An animal within an automobile or other vehicle of its owner shall not be deemed ‘running at large.’"

Section 6-52 of the Ballinger Code Book says that all animals are required to wear their tag on a collar: “The license tag shall be attached to a collar, harness or other device and shall be worn by the licensed dog or cat at all times. The original license receipt and rabies vaccination certificates for dogs or cats, shall be retained by the owner for inspection by any person charged with the enforcement of this article.

Allowing an animal to roam free is a violation in the Ballinger Code Book, section 6-12.”

Under section 6-12 in the Ballinger Code Book each violation for any of the animal codes is punishable by up to a $500 fine. The fine can be levied per day if the violation continues.

The fee for licensing a dog or cat is minimal. Section 6-50 of the code book states that the fee charged by the city for registering a dog or cat is $10. If the dog or cat is neutered, the fee is only $1:

“Section 6-50: Any owner of a dog or cat at least four months of age shall procure a license. This license shall be renewed annually. All dog and cat licenses issued thereunder shall expire one year from the date of issuance. The fee for a dog or cat license is set by the Ballinger City Council at; Ten dollars per dog or cat or one dollar for a neutered or spayed dog or cat. Upon collection of the license fee a dated and numbered receipt shall be issued stating the name and address of the owner, license number, description of the dog or cat and a city license tag stamped with a corresponding serial number, year of issuance, and City of Ballinger, TX.”

Ballinger Police Chief Stan Maresch said that the department has had citizens approach them about the missing and poisoned cats, “We have had some citizens approach us about some cruelty on cats. One citizen stated that his cats were poisoned and another that had cats come up missing and then came back fixed (spay/neutered). We have had 2 felines, 1 deceased, that have been reported to be poisoned and 2 others that have been fixed without the consent of the owner. We do not know how the felines were poisoned, and the cats may have just got into something that was not good for them. Currently we do have a general area where this misconduct is happening, but not sure who or why. And since the COVID-19 outbreak we put the TNR program on hold. If a citizen has an issue with felines, they need to contact us about it and we can help. With everything opening back up, we will start the TNR program again soon. We do check felines when we trap them to make sure they don’t have a collar or microchip before we get them fixed.

If a citizen is a cat owner and is worried about them, keep them inside, make sure they have a break away collar with City and rabies tags on them and/or that they are microchipped.

Former Ballinger city councilman Jason Gore posted a reply in the social media conversation regarding tags and roaming cats, “If it's wandering the streets without tags, it's not a pet, it's a stray. Doesn't matter what anyone believes about neutering or not.”

Hardy, the police department and others continue to try and identify the person or persons responsible for the poisoning and abduction of the cats. If you have any information, you can contact the Ballinger Police Department at 325-365-3591.