A West Miami resident dedicated to saving the lives of rescued elderly cats has been fined for violating an ordinance of which he was unaware, despite city commissioners’ contemplating amending the law.
Hans Perez, who has lived in the city for several years, owns nine rescued cats. But a city ordinance states that only three pets are allowed per household. Perez says that he and neighbors were only recently made aware of the ordinance. He rents the property and says he made his landlord aware of his cats when he moved in in 2012. His lease doesn’t run out until February 2013.
The city’s code-enforcement division has contacted Miami-Dade County Animal Services and fined Perez with a daily $25 citation for the pets.
Perez argues that the cats are elderly and need special care, and that some lack teeth. Recently, one of his cats died of cancer, so he is down to eight felines. He also owns a dog, which he recently sent to his friend’s house because he feared for the animal’s life.
“My cats don’t have a chance to suffer because I am always there for them. Unfortunately, I now have eight cats,” he wrote in an email. “These cats are more than pets — they are my companions and part of my family.”
All of the stray cats were found in the city and are fixed and vaccinated.
He has appeared at commission meetings in which city officials “entertained” a possible change to the ordinance by allowing a “window of time” in cases like Perez, City Manager Yolanda Aguilar wrote in an email.
“Since there is a fine running on the code-enforcement case, I suggested that until such time as the ordinance was amended, then the city could consider stopping the running fines,” she wrote. “However, city attorney Jose Villalobos has opined that the matter is presently a code-enforcement matter and needs to go through the code-enforcement process before any appeal by the city commission is heard.”
The city’s code-enforcement department was made aware of Perez’s issue after a neighbor filed a complaint about his dog.
“The purpose of these ordinances is generally directed to protect the health, safety and welfare of all citizens, and to promote the peaceful enjoyment of life for each and every citizen,” Villalobos said.
Perez, who has reached out to the nonprofit Cat Network organization, said he has been dealing with this issue since February and hasn’t paid the citations yet. The citations are directed to the owner. The cats walk around his backyard and sleep in a three-story cage he built. He lets the cats loose in the daytime and brings them in at nighttime.
“I found out once they came to my house,” Perez said, referring to when he was made aware of the ordinance. “The city is not cooperating. They are pressuring my landlord to make me move.”
Perez’s next-door neighbor Terry Hidalgo said she wasn’t aware of the cats and didn’t have a problem with the animals.
“Doesn’t bother me at all. As long as the pets are under control and not roaming the neighborhood, it is not a problem,” she said.
Aguilar said everyone must obey the ordinance.
“Tenants have rights, but there are rules,” the city manager said in a phone interview. “We live in a society where order should prevail, and that’s why we have laws.”
Perez, who has spent thousands of dollars saving the pets, said he doesn’t want to see the cats’ lives go to waste.
“You take these cats elsewhere to go under the needle, and that’s it for them,” he said.