Cat lover facing crackdown by Temple Terrace officials

TEMPLE TERRACE— Jeanne Ambler insists she isn't a "cat nut."

Yes, she loves felines and enjoys petting and hugging them. But more important, she can't bear to see them — or any other animal — go hungry.

Ambler, 81, has been feeding stray cats near her home at Nantucket Bay Apartments for years. Her habit has lately drawn the ire of some neighbors, apartment managers and city officials.

Now it may cost Ambler her home.

In June, the city sent her a notice about feeding and harboring feral cats. Last Thursday, she got a seven-day eviction notice for creating unsanitary conditions and disrupting peace at the apartment complex. On Tuesday, her July rent check of $516 was returned.

For Ambler, not feeding the three short-haired domestic cats that find their way to the complex every afternoon is inhumane.

"It just seems incredibly cruel," she said. "It's like starving a child."

Ambler has lived in the complex, an affordable housing community for seniors, for more than a decade. She has a cat of her own — Impy, who is part Siamese — and a poodle, Punkins, who was left at her door.

A retired Hillsborough Community College tutor, Ambler lives on a monthly Social Security check of $683 with some financial help from family members. She has suffered two heart attacks and severe arthritis forces her to use a mobility scooter.

Still, she has maintained her ritual of feeding the stray cats and squirrels scampering around the parking lot near her apartment. She said she has had many of the cats spayed and neutered.

She calls one Nasty — short for Nasturtium. Another goes by Fatso. They keep her company, giving her something to look forward to every day.

For months, officials at the complex have been sending her notices to stop.

Still, some residents are divided on the issue.

"They don't bother me," Evelyn Childs, 75, who moved in about two months ago, said of the cats. "People who are animal lovers will try to take care of stray animals."

Jeane Seymour, 78, said the food put out for the stray cats tends to attract more animals.

"I just think they should feed (animals) in the house, not put food outside," Seymour said.

Ambler said she has seen a number of animals — raccoons, possums, armadillos, squirrels and foxes — in the apartment complex and that they never cause any harm.

But on Tuesday, Temple Terrace code compliance director Joe Gross, met with Ambler, reiterating the same concerns as Seymour. He said he hopes she will find other ways to help stray animals.

"She's very passionate about animals and we certainly understand that," Gross said, noting that it's important to balance public health and safety with her compassion for animals.

Gross said if Ambler continues to feed the animals, she'll have to face the city's Municipal Code Enforcement Board, which could levy a daily fine of as much as $250.

The complex is owned by the Gatehouse Cos., based in Massachusetts. Christina Blevins, the community director, and the company's law firm declined to comment.

Ambler's lease expires in October and she has nowhere else to go.

"I just really hope somebody will come forward and say, 'Hey we can take these three cats,' " said Ambler's daughter, Judy Heeschen, 63.

Yet on Tuesday, Ambler was unsure about her next step and whether she will stop feeding the animals.

"I grew up during the Depression," said Ambler. "I know what it feels like to be hungry."

Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or njayakrishna@sptimes.com.

Cat lover facing crackdown by Temple Terrace officials 07/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 2:59pm]

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