BENICIA - City leaders and local animal advocates have crafted new regulations regarding undomesticated felines.

The new rules were approved earlier this month as part of an updated animal control ordinance and will be revisited next year after officials have had time to assess their preliminary effect.

"We were interested in working out a solution," said Peter Wilson, the Benicia-Vallejo Human Society's humane services director who was among those who worked on the ordinance. Representatives of the Audubon Society and local feral cat programs also were involved.

The new rules require anyone managing a feral cat colony to obtain a permit allowing animal control officers to do spot checks on the colonies, said Gretchen Burgess, who also helped craft the ordinance.

Self-described bird lover Sue Wickham spoke up at a recent City Council meeting against the ordinance. It conflicts with the protection of wildlife, she said, and doesn't create enough accountability for caretakers.

Plus, once word gets out about the cat colonies, people will start abandoning unwanted cats there, she said. "It will create a dumping ground," Wickham said, adding that the only way to protect birds and other wildlife is to confine cats.

There are feral cat colonies all over Benicia, Wilson said. Industrial areas, mobile home parks and areas near open fields are among the most popular places for the felines to dwell.

"There's not a place you can go where you can't find a feral cat if you sit and wait," he said.

Benicia's location between the water and a vast open space also makes it home to a diverse range of wildlife, said Susan Heckly, wildlife rehabilitation director for the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, where about 6,000 injured native animals are cared for every year.

Wildlife preservation becomes even more critical in the "edge areas," where natural habitats meet human spaces, said Heckly, who advocates keeping cats indoors for the sake of wildlife and the cats' safety.

While Burgess said she is also concerned about cats killing wildlife -- and uses an enclosure to keep her own pet in her yard -- she said there are ways to protect all the animals.

One eventual goal in caring for the cats is to eliminate the colonies by spaying and neutering the cats, Burgess said.

The humane society rents out traps to catch the cats and sells low cost spay and neuter vouchers. After receiving medical care, unsocialized cats are released back into the colonies.

"We have 20 traps and they're out constantly," said Wilson, who praised the commitment of people working with feral cats.

Burgess said she hoped people would stop contributing to the problem by discarding unwanted cats instead of taking them to a shelter. "If you have a cat and can't keep it, there are resources. There's no reason to abandon it," she said.

Reach Sara Stroud at 707-553-6833 or sstroud@thnewsnet.com.