It all began with an email.
The subject: Dead Bird at the Legal Department Steps.
The culprit was unknown, but it was likely Lizzie, Darcy or Tux, three cats who hang around the Metropolitan Development Housing Agency's administration buildings in the James Cayce homes. They're fed by staff. They've even been fixed and vaccinated.
But Tremecca Doss, MDHA's general counsel, is siding with the bird.
According to emails obtained by WPLN, the incident has sent the agency into a bureaucratic battle over whether employees are allowed to care for the stray cats that roam its properties.
In an email to top executives, Doss said the cats posed a clear danger to MDHA staff, as well as to other animals, and requested they be removed as soon as possible. "While I support and believe in the humane treatment of animals, I am concerned," she wrote, adding that the cats seem to roam the place with impunity. "I recall on one occasion seeing the gray cat sunning itself on Mr. Harbison's car," she said, referring to the agency's executive director.
In response, Pat Thicklin, who works in Human Resources, wrote that in addition to caring for the cats, employees "also care for dogs, birds, squirrels and even a snake."
Thicklin went on to say that "Ms. Doss may have these cats removed, but other animals will appear in front of the building, and staff members will provide care for the animals." She added that if Doss had an issue, she could file a complaint with her office.
Doss did not respond to WPLN's request for comment. An agency spokeswoman told WPLN she was not aware of anyone ever being attacked by a cat on the property.
In addition to feeding, spaying and neutering the cats, MDHA staff works on socializing them and has managed to get nine adopted. (Full disclosure: A member of WPLN's staff adopted a stray from Cayce. His name is Leonard.)
Thicklin isn't the only person who thinks removing the cats from Cayce won't achieve the desired effect.
"I can't imagine anything positive coming out of moving them," says Denice Heatherly, a founding member of Music City Animal Advocates. She says moving a cat only means more will come in its place. Something animal experts call "the vacuum effect."
Heatherly helped author a 36-page report on community cats for Metro Nashville, which has budgeted more than $100,000 this year to care for community cats, according to the mayor's office. The report's recommendation: Create a program where neighbors come together as caretakers for stray cats in their area.
MDHA doesn't seem to want such a program. They're looking into a new policy that could prohibit employees from feeding or caring for community cats at MDHA properties. An agency spokeswoman declined to give specifics, saying only that the policy will focus on the "health and safety of employees."
Heatherly says this could be a great opportunity for MDHA to foster a cat caretaker program among its tenants.
"Bringing residents together over the management of them," Heatherly said, "to me that's a win-win."
At least one other housing authority decided to use cats to its advantage. Over the summer, St. Louis began employing community cats to help with its rodent problem — a job Lizzie, Darcy and Tux would probably love to get their paws on.