Behind the News

Pinellas County forum: Kill dem cats or let ’em be?

Several weeks before my layoff, I was perusing some of the local rags and came across an interesting item in a weekly newspaper concerning the formation of a “feral cat committee.”

Ah, I thought, finally a government body our local cat ladies can get excited about.

The jist of the article was one well covered by newspapers in the area: Pinellas County has a huge homeless cat population. It’s getting worse. Nobody agrees on what to do about it.

Some interesting statistics on the county’s feral cat popuation:

A county formula based on our population estimates over 150,000 stray or feral cats roam our alleys and streets. In 2007, Pinellas County’s animal services department took in 12,878 cats. Of those, 4,148 were claimed by their owners or adoped out. The rest — over 8,000 — were euthanized.

Currently, the county offers spay and neuter services to try and control the homeless cat population. All cats adopted out are spayed/neutered, plus the county will sterilize cats free of charge for pet owners on public assistance. That’s not counting the low price they already charge ($20-30) for everyone else.

In addition to the county’s efforts, some organizations like the Human Society conduct TNR programs (that’s Trap-Nueter-Release for those not hip on the lingo) that sterilize feral cat colonies in the hopes that they will eventually die out. The argument for those TNR supporters is that if you just remove the feral cats, another group will move in, possibly one not sterilized, and create a worse situation.

(I’ve written about TNR here.)

But some government agencies and animal organizations say that’s just not good enough.

Back to the article.

So, the reporter for this story attended a 2008 county commission meeting where they were discussing the feral cat situation. The director of Pinellas County’s animal services department, Dr. Welch Agnew, presented these same statistics to commissioners along with information on the county’s policy. That policy is to screen all cats coming into the county shelter, save the healthy ones with good attitudes, and euthanize the rest. He added this adorable-as-a-kitten quote: “We don’t hate cats. We love cats and want to get as many home as we can.”

But Dr. Bruce Rinker, the county’s environmental lands manager, had a different take. Feral cats are invasive species, he told commissioners, just like Brazilian peppers, air potatoes and Cuban tree frogs. Plus, they kill birds. And he does not like TNR. He calls it: “Trap, neuter and re-abandon.”

Next up at this commission meeting was Mike McDonald of the Clearwater Audubon Society who agreed with Rinker. He feels all feral cats should be euthanized. A life on the streets is much more harsh, he argued.

The county commissioners didn’t vote on any new policy — you can imagine the public outcry over rounding up little kitties and gassing them. Instead, the commissioners allowed stakeholders to create a committee to talk about the issue. I’ve been eagerly awaiting any news since. Earlier this month, that news came.

Today, April 15 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., the feral cat committee will host a forum to gather public input on what to do with feral cats. Kill ’em or TNR ’em?

This is one issue that has fallen by the wayside over the last few months. But if you’re a cat lover, and especially if you have experience in solutions, you might want to speak your mind.