Feral cats are widespread in Pinellas County, but local animal welfare agencies have different ideas about how to manage the issue.
Feral cats are the offspring of former pet cats or other feral cats who are not spayed or neutered. Feral cats are not just shy. They are not trainable and generally cannot be adopted.
The Trap, Neuter, Return Approach
One approach to managing the feral population is through Trap, Neuter, Return programs. Through these programs, cats are trapped by community caregivers, neutered by volunteers and then returned to the community by the caregivers. They are vaccinated against rabies, distemper and have one ear surgically tipped to indicate they have gone through the process, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
SPCA Tampa Bay, which is based in Largo, has offered a discounted spay and neuter program since May 2011 for feral cats. The program relies on donations and volunteers. The most recent clinic was held Feb. 26.
According to Martha Boden, SPCA CEO, who attended Sunday's event as a volunteer, in areas where there are active programs there has been a decrease in the number of feral and adoptive cats. Feral cats normally live in colonies and manage their own populations, she said. Removing all of the cats does not affect the number because other cats would move into the area.
"The goal is to stem the tide of overpopulation and reduce the number of animals," Boden said.
When feral cats are brought in to the SPCA, they are not picked up because of the danger of bites. In rare circumstances, a feral cat that goes through the spay/neuter process later becomes available for adoption. Sometimes the cat may be a former family pet that was left behind or left outside by its family, so it moved into a colony and ended up being brought in as a feral cat, volunteer Phyllis Combs said.
The County Perspective
Pinellas County law does not allow cats or dogs to be at large. For cats, this basically means cats outside need to be in a screened enclosure, or with an owner on a leash or under voice command, where someone can make sure the cat does not get injured by people or animals, said Linda Britland, Animal Services field manager.
"The big picture is cats suffer in the wild in Florida," Britland said. "It is inhumane to allow a cat to be outside in the elements without a loving, caring home. It is dangerous for the cats. They can be attacked, hit, shot and poisoned."
Placing or offering food or garbage outside, which can attract cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes and other wildlife, creates a public nuisance, according to county law, Britland said. It is also a public safety and health issue, especially if an animal with rabies bites another animal and then comes in contact with a human, Britland said.
The county does not actively look for people who take care of feral cats in the community, Britland said.
"However, if we get a complaint based on another citizen's concern, we will get the police involved for a public nuisance" violation, she said. "If you love cats, license it, neuter it, and take it home with you."
Everyone does seem to agree about educating the public of the importance of spaying and neutering pets, Britland said.
Resources on Feral Cats
- The Tampa Bay SPCA offers a neutering/spaying program for feral cats.
- Pinellas County Animal Services offers information about a county study on feral cats and the effects of feral cats.
- Alleycat.org provides a clearinghouse of information on cats.
- SpayFlorida.org has a statewide list of low cost spay neuter clinics and resources.
- The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals answers FAQ on feral cats.