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Feral Cats Pose Dilemma for Local Animal Agencies

Animal caregivers have different perspectives on how to care for the county's feral cat population.

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.

, 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,  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

Glen Hagstrom March 04, 2012 at 03:00 PM
This is to Esteban, you and people like you should be turned over to be euthanasia!!!!!!!!
Wanda Collicutt March 05, 2012 at 06:15 AM
2657 heartless people, shame on you all. Euthanasia is just a nice word for kill, euthanasia is painful in most cases the animal is stuck into the heart with a needle, or are put into a gassing chamber to die a slow and painful death that can take hours, only the animals who’s owners pay for the pet to be killed will get the needle that paralyses them, strays and unwanted pets are stuck in the heart without being paralyzed, it cost too much for the shelters to paralyze them. TNR does work, and there is no risk to humans unless the feral cat is cornered, most feral cats will run from humans. As for pet cats, if irresponsible owner didn’t allow their pet cats to foam free, they would not be getting into fight with strays and feral cats. Humans are the reason for the feral cats of the world by not altering and keeping their love pet inside; if a pet is altered they don’t look to go outside.
Wanda Collicutt March 05, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Humane euthanasia is not done by a paralyzing drug. They are given a sedative to render them unconscious before receiving the lethal injection of 'pink juice'. Shelters will not put out the extra funds to sedate them.. or put them under first. : Everyone should read this! http://www.reachoutrescue.org/info/display?PageID=11681
dean miller March 06, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Well as for the comments that feral cats are wild and untrainable.....I beg to differ. I have tamed and trained many....in fact I have never found a cat I could not tame and I have 3 at my work now. I also might point out that cats were wild originally and did just fine. Then humans domesticated them....dogs too. So why cant we let them just live in peace and use the TNR to control them. What in heavens name is all the fuss about? Dean
Denise Melanson February 05, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Albert D must be a proud humane being that he loves to kill things. Nothing that makes you feel you more like a man than killing things in an unfair fight with a gun from a long distance away. He must have the man parts the size of grapes for being that brave.

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