Federal Agency Attempts to Scare Escambia Co Commissioners Out of TNR

Ford, part of a maintained TNR colony in AL.  (Photo by Aubrie Kavanaugh)

Ford, part of a maintained TNR colony in AL. (Photo by Aubrie Kavanaugh)

Reform at the long troubled pound in Escambia Co Florida is getting some support from county commissioners.  Specifically, the commissioners had planned to discuss the implementation of a TNR program for the community’s feral cats at its July 24 public meeting.  But on July 23, the US Fish and Wildlife Service sent a nastygram to the commissioners, threatening them with jail if they moved forward with TNR.

Instead, the US Fish and Wildlife Service encouraged the county to continue trapping and killing its community’s cats.  Because that’s what the US Fish and Wildlife Service does:  kill animals.  Last year, the agency killed 4 million animals, in addition to mailing out threatening letters I guess.

The Escambia Co TNR ordinance was tabled until the August 14 meeting so that the county attorney could advise commissioners on what to expect in prison their legal options.

Commissioner Grover Robinson seems like he gets it:

“Clearly what we’ve got isn’t working,” the commissioner said. “We’re killing 5,000 cats a year, and it hasn’t made a dent.” He added that whatever concerns conservationists and public health officials had likely would apply regardless of whether the county moved forward with TNR.

“The whole reason we’re considering this is because we believe it will lead to fewer cats in the long term,” Robinson said.

No more calls, I think we have a winner.

If you live in Escambia Co and would like to voice your support for TNR, the commissioners meeting is at 9am on August 14:

Ernie Lee Magaha Governmental Complex, 221 S. Palafox Place

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Hawaiian Island on Path to Exterminate 20,000 Cats

Abby, member of a manged TNR colony in Alabama.  (Photo by Aubrie Kavanaugh)

Abby, member of a managed TNR colony in Alabama. (Photo by Aubrie Kavanaugh)

The county of Kauai, one of the Hawaiian islands, assembled a nine member Feral Cat Task Force to make recommendations regarding the management of the community cat population.  The county paid $30,000 for the report, issued in March 2014.  The task force excluded the president of Kauai Ferals and was primarily comprised of individuals wishing to exterminate cats.

The final report highlighted the Billions and Billions of Birds myth often touted by cat haters and estimated the county’s feral cat population at 20,000.  The 10 year goal, as stated in the report, is for the island to have “zero feral, abandoned and stray cats” which is obviously an unattainable and unrealistic goal.  Gee, maybe they should have let the guy who knows feral cats have some input.

Among the recommendations made by the task force:

  • Expand the cat licensing ordinance to include colony caretakers.
  • Outlaw cats on county property.  Trap any cats found on county property for adoption or killing.
  • Require licensed cat owners to obtain written permission (revokable with 10 days notice) from any property owner willing to allow cats on his property.  Any cats found on property without written permission from the owner will be deemed stray and subject to trapping.
  • Implement a TNR program in two phases:
    1.  For the first five years, TNR colonies must be registered and monitored to maintain at least a 90% spay-neuter rate.  Sick, injured and new cats, including kittens, must be removed from the colony for adoption or killing.
    2.  After the initial five year period, TNR colonies must be registered and will only be allowed on fully fenced, private property.  The county will no longer pay for maintaining its community cats and the financial burden will be shifted to private citizens.
  • The county must hire additional animal enforcement officers in order to conduct the increased cat licensing, monitoring, trapping and killing.

In effect, the recommendations target outdoor cats for extermination – potentially including indoor cats who escape their homes – and punish colony caretakers with licensing fees and unreasonable restrictions making it impossible for them to reduce the colony size over time. The TNR program as outlined is destined to fail by design. This is what you get when you commission a report from people who want to kill cats.

Judy Dalton, one of the token non-cat hating members of the task force, expressed some reasonable concerns in her comments at the end of the report:

If there is going to be a reduction in the numbers of community cats, it is absolutely imperative that spay/neutering services be affordable and accessible to all cats – both owned and unowned. The cost to spay and microchip a female cat at the Humane Society was hiked from $10 to $50 last year – 5 times more than it has been in the past. This is beyond the affordability of most residents on Kauai where a female cat and 4 female kittens and 2 males would cost them over $300,
when a primary concern is putting food on their tables. As a result, female cats didn’t get spayed and their kittens were abandoned. I rescued more abandoned kittens this past year than the past 18 years that I’ve been doing so.
[...]
The spay/neuter van needs to continue and be available to feral cats, as it has been in the past and not be denied to feral cats as it was this past year.

In addition, Ms. Dalton lamented that experienced TNR supporters were barred from participating during the decision making work session of the task force, resulting in a lop-sided set of recommendations favoring cat eradication.

It’s up to the Kauai Co Council to consider the recommendations of the task force and determine what action to take regarding its community cats.  Anyone wishing to contact the council with polite comments supporting TNR and opposing cat extermination and the criminalization of cat owners should email: Councilmembers@kauai.gov

(Thanks Nathan for sending me this story.)

One Less Vet in the World Willing to Take in a Homeless Cat and Treat Him for Free

An all too familiar story in the animal welfare world has ended in needless tragedy.

In August 2013, a Good Samaritan found a sickly cat in a park in the Bronx and took him to Gentle Hands vet clinic. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Shirley Koshi, took him in and nursed him back to health. Several weeks later, Gwen Jurmark showed up at the clinic demanding the cat, called Karl, be given to her. Ms. Jurmark claimed Karl was part of a maintained colony of cats who live at the park. She believed she had legal standing to claim Karl due to the fact that she had paid for his neuter surgery some years back. Ms. Jurmark filed a lawsuit against Dr. Koshi in October after she refused to give Karl to her.

Dr. Koshi became the target of a cyberbullying campaign. (I’m only including one link as an example because I don’t want to provide these people with any more traffic than is necessary but you can Google to find more if you are so inclined.)  Ms. Jurmark also led a protest outside the Gentle Hands clinic.

[Veterinary technician Will] Page said business at Gentle Hands, which Koshi opened last July, nosedived in the aftermath of the protest. Koshi told Page she’d exhausted her savings to keep the clinic running, and a flood last month damaged the office.
[...]
“Besides financial problems, the lawsuit drove her over the edge,” Page said.

Dr. Koshi was found dead in her apartment on February 16, an apparent victim of suicide.  Authorities reportedly took the pets from her apartment, including Karl, to the NYC pound.  Ms. Jurmark went to the pound following Dr. Koshi’s suicide and got Karl back.

(Thank you Valerie and Clarice for links on this story.)

***

If you need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime, day or night.

As far as this tiny corner of the blogosphere goes, I am doing my best to err on the side of caution and quickly toss anyone who comes across as a potential That Guy.

“Compromised Feline Welfare” at Hillsborough Co Pound

Screengrab from the Hillsborough Co pound's PetHarbor listings

Screengrab from the Hillsborough Co pound’s PetHarbor listings

It sucks being a cat at the Hillsborough Co pound in Florida.  Way.

Although the pound’s TNR program was officially sanctioned by local politicians on May 1, not one action has been taken to implement the program:

“I’m not [a] patient person,” said Sherry Silk, director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. “Come on; it’s been six months and we haven’t saved a single cat.”

Not only has Hillsborough Co failed to save a single cat via its TNR-INO (In Name Only) program while citing colony caregivers for feeding TNR’d cats, its cat killing machine continues to mow down nearly every feline in its path.    In fiscal year 2012, the live release rate for cats was 18.9%.  The pound is currently killing 600 adult cats and kittens every month.

In August, the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program issued a report detailing recommendations for the Hillsborough Co pound.  Some of the findings:

  • Nursing mama cats who are impounded as strays are automatically sent to the kill room after their mandated holding period expires.
  • Some kittens designated as available for adoption are housed in rooms which are off limits to the public.
  • Animals’ records – both computer and paper – regularly contain incorrect age, sex and holding period data.
  • Cats are often housed in tiny holding cages with the access door to the other side of the cage kept closed, even when the other side is empty, leading to “compromised feline welfare”.
  • Cats are left in uncovered traps and carriers in a high traffic hallway while awaiting cage placement, putting them at increased risk for illness due to stress.

One of the recommendations from the Maddie’s Fund consultants is to designate a feline advocate at the facility:

This person should assure individual cats are housed in the appropriate ward, have no unnecessary holds, and are tracked appropriately for foster, transfer, or adoption.

And by “unecessary holds”, Maddie’s Fund includes any holding period for stray cats who lack identification. A key recommendation from the report:

Eliminate the required hold period for stray cats. Stray cats lacking identification are extremely unlikely to be reclaimed by owners and are at high risk for shelter – acquired disease and euthanasia. Eliminating even a few days in the shelter may be the difference between life and death for them. The shelter can simultaneously have an option for immediate live release paired with a required hold period of 3 days prior to euthanasia.

So lost cats with their sex/age/holding period information data possibly entered wrongly by Hillsborough Co staff, possibly housed in rooms which are off limits to the public and possibly designated in advance as Straight to Kill Room are unlikely to be reclaimed by their owners?  And the recommendation is to eliminate the unidentified stray holding period entirely because they might get sick at this “compromised feline welfare” facility?  Snaaaaaap.

The No Kill Advocacy Center weighed in on the elimination of stray holding periods when HSUS suggested it in its recent white paper on California shelters:

[I]f a dog or cat comes in as a stray, and he does not have identification, he can be adopted to someone else immediately without giving his family any time to reclaim him. This is unfair to families who deeply love their animal companions. [...] Accidents happen; animals get lost and end up at shelters. Since the choice presented — immediate adoption or sickness/death — is a false one, breaking up families by having them lose all rights in their animal with no reclaim period of any kind appears draconian.

If Hillsborough Co accepts the Maddie’s Fund recommendation to eliminate the state mandated 5 day holding period for unidentified stray cats, it will not only cause undue harm to owners of lost cats trying to find them, it will fast track cats to the kill room – the most likely outcome for cats at Hillsborough Co.  What Hillsborough Co needs is someone to run into the cat ward and yell, “Iceberg – dead ahead!”  Instead, Maddie’s Fund is busy re-arranging the deck chairs.

Screengrab from the Hillsborough Co pound's PetHarbor listings

Screengrab from the Hillsborough Co pound’s PetHarbor listings

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

The South Will Rise

While places like Union Co, NC continue to go moldy, communities all around the south are defying stereotypes and adopting progressive no kill protocols.

In Spartanburg, SC, city ACOs used to pick up cats and take them to the pound where roughly 8 out of 10 would be killed.  Area caretakers of feral cat colonies had a contentious relationship with the officers who would round up their maintained colony cats, along with other cats, and take them away for killing.

But late last year, Spartanburg Animal Services investigated trap-neuter-return for community cats and decided it was worth a try.  Funded by a grant, the city’s ACOs launched the program in January 2013.  They are on track to meet their goal of providing neuter and vaccination services to 750 feral cats this year.  The feline kill rate has dropped to virtually zero in 2013 thanks to TNR and the relationship with the community has bloomed into a supportive and useful one.  And Spartanburg Animal Services has been educating the masses via its Facebook page on which they document their outstanding TNR success.

In North Carolina, Lincoln Co animal advocates successfully lobbied their county commissioners for shelter reform.  Citing the will of the people to save shelter pets instead of killing them, commissioners unanimously voted this month to adopt the programs of the No Kill Equation:

“We are excited about leading the way in the state of North Carolina, through our commitment to become a no kill municipal shelter,” said Alex Patton, chairman of the county commissioners. “It is the right decision and one shared by the majority of our citizens.”

In Calhoun Co, AL, an advisory board was formed after concerns were raised about animal cruelty and botched killings at the pound.  The county is now slated to turn pound operations over to a non-profit group with goals for significant improvements:

 “I kept hearing from the previous board that it’s impossible to be a no-kill shelter,” [board member and attorney Tom] Wright said. “That’s not right to me, because that should be your goal. That’s what we want to work towards.”

Makes sense to me.

So even as many old-think shelter directors and politicians in the south remain mired in the killing ways of decades gone by, more and more southern communities are throwing off the yoke of archaic practices and starting to look at what makes sense:  Animals shelters should shelter animals. The public does not want animals in shelters killed.

No kill is not only possible, it’s happening in hundreds of communities all over the country.  Regressive directors and their enablers will continue to see their stranglehold on shelters eroded as more advocates take political action and the public continues to be educated about lifesaving alternatives.  And when history reflects upon those who fought to keep killing in the south and elsewhere, they will find themselves a mere Meisterburger footnote at the end of the chapter entitled “Compassion and Common Sense”.

Shelters’ Feral Cat Policies are Indicative of Their Commitment to Lifesaving

A shelter policy which requires workers to determine whether a cat is feral upon impound is inconsistent with best practices. A cat impounded by a shelter is often going to behave in a fearful and defensive manner, to varying degrees, which doesn’t mean he is a wild cat but rather that he is behaving normally for his species under the circumstances. And many, many owned cats are not microchipped so the lack of a chip in no way suggests a cat is feral. Further, when a shelter takes the stance that cats deemed feral are deserving of nothing except death, there is needless killing – sometimes of feral cats, other times of owned pets who have been misidentified by staff.

Today is National Feral Cat Day and while the outlook remains gloomy in regressive killing facilities and communities which harass colony caregivers, there are signs of hope for feral cats, sometimes in unlikely places.

  • Lake Norman Realty in NC has a TNR program for local community cats and is hosting a fundraiser to benefit its Lucky Cat program today.
Photo from the UPAWS Barn Buddies webpage.

Photo from the UPAWS Barn Buddies webpage.

It’s great to see the general public supporting feral cats and their right to live. What would be even better is to see more shelters doing their jobs and protecting dogs and cats, including ferals.  Shelters such as UPAWS in Michigan not only provide humane care for feral cats brought to the shelter, they adopt them out via their “Barn Buddies” program.  The neutered and vaccinated cats are placed as outdoor “rodent control technicians” for a $10 fee.

Is your local shelter or anyone in your community doing anything special for free-living cats on National Feral Cat Day? Tragically, my local shelter is just doing the usual: killing. Or to put it more accurately, killing and trying their best to hide their actions from the public. If only shelters such as this put as much effort into saving lives as they do into ending them and hiding the evidence, we might truly be able to celebrate feral cats today instead of having to beg for their right to live.

Shelter directors should consider protecting feral cats as part of their jobs – specifically:

  • Allowing newly impounded cats a quiet period of adjustment before assessing their status
  • Neutering, vaccinating and returning truly feral cats to their outdoor lives
  • Taming kittens born to feral mothers and offering them for adoption
  • Partnering with the community in order to provide foster care and to maintain feral cat colonies

If directors refuse to do their jobs, they should be replaced by compassionate people who will.  In the interim they should not be allowed to accept any cat they are determined to kill and instead be required to direct concerned citizens to animal groups willing to provide humane care.   In too many cases, shelter directors’ policy on feral cats results in a violent and permanent betrayal of the animals the facility is supposed to be protecting.

We have a long way to go in terms of shelter reform. How shelters treat feral cats is indicative of their commitment to lifesaving. These are animals who pose unique challenges in handling and care, who are unlikely to generate much, if any, adoption revenue and who some people consider to be nuisance wildlife. When an animal shelter isn’t fighting to protect these cats from harm, it reflects a fundamental mission failure.

 

“How to Make a Problem Way Worse” by the Portsmouth Humane Society Board President

Nearly four years ago, the former executive director of the Portsmouth Humane Society, Christie Chipps Peters, started a TNR program for the feral cats received at the VA shelter. The program was a success in that it saved the lives of feral cats and the staff maintained the colony created by the release of the neutered, vaccinated cats in the woods behind the shelter. The problem was that the records for each of the cats involved in the TNR program were intentionally miscategorized as “adopted” with the adopter in each case being a shelter employee. In addition, the state of Virginia does not have a law on the books that officially addresses the practice of TNR:

The law dictates that animals brought into shelters can either be adopted, returned to their owners, transferred to another agency or euthanized.

To complicate matters further, it seems as if the city, which contracts with the Portsmouth Humane Society for animal control, views the obligation to accept feral cats differently from the HS board president, Rebecca Barclay:

The city’s contract with the Portsmouth shelter remains in question. City officials believe dealing with feral cats was part of the deal.

“We’re disappointed,” City Attorney George Willson said.

Barclay contends the animal shelter was never equipped to handle feral cats and that its staff should never have accepted them.

“Because feral cats are unadoptable,” Barclay said. “They do not have the potential to become pets.”

When shelter officials worked out the contract with the city, Barclay said, it was made clear the shelter would not accept feral cats.

Willson and City Manager John Rowe could not confirm that, but noted that the shelter has been accepting them from the beginning of the five-year contract, in 2010.

It appears that the city and the HS board president have been operating under opposing assumptions for years.  And that the executive director of the HS was given free reign to address the issue as she saw fit.  When Jenn Austin took over the ED position at the shelter in February 2013, she continued the existing TNR program.

On May 31, 2013, a former Portsmouth HS employee filed a complaint with the state about the miscategorization of records for cats involved in the TNR program.  The state investigated and issued a fine:

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has handed Portsmouth a $1,250 fine for several “critical failures to provide adequate care” at the shelter located at 4022 Seaboard Court.

In response, the city reacted in a reasonable manner:

Portsmouth City Manager John Rowe said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the shelter’s practice, but is reserving judgment on the matter. He said he plans to let the shelter and the state resolve it.

“They’re saying they’re in compliance with the law,” he said. “I’m not a judge.”

The HS board president however, claiming she was “shocked and appalled”, went Matrix on the shelter, firing the executive director, ordering the staff to stop accepting feral cats immediately and hiring a team of lawyers to defend the HS.  Amidst this kind of hysteria, PETA was bound to smell blood in the water and their spokesman inserted herself into the melee in order to promote their Yay for Killing Cats agenda.  PETA, which actively seeks out homeless cats and dogs and kills nearly every one they get their hands on, supports TNR – when it’s for deer.  But the practice they call a “humane alternative” for controlling deer populations somehow doesn’t apply to wild cats.  Cats must die.  All die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11!!!

I hate to bring reason back into the picture here but I’m wondering if this whole issue couldn’t simply be solved by the city putting an ordinance on the books that addresses TNR.  (Virginia is a home rule state.)  Then the city could still have a place to bring its feral cats and the shelter could provide care for them while correctly categorizing the cats’ records as TNR.  The board president lady and PETA can still have their pearl-clutching tea party where they can hyperventilate to Polly Prissypants about the horror of community cats being neutered, vaccinated, and allowed to live.

In the meantime though, the Portsmouth Humane Society staff will still be allowed to maintain the colony established in the woods behind the shelter.  Recommendations on how to remove the colony without killing the cats are reportedly being sought.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

Hillsborough Co TNR = WTF?

When Hillsborough Co Animal Services in Florida gained official political support for its new Trap Neuter Return program in May, the news was widely celebrated. But this week Janet Gill, a caregiver in Hillsborough Co who maintains a colony of TNR’d cats, sent me two of three notices she says she’s received from Hillsborough Co Animal Services in recent weeks. Read them and weep.

First notice received by colony caregiver in Hillsborough Co:

1st notice hillsborough co

Third notice received by colony caregiver in Hillsborough Co:

3rd notice hillsborough co

If the Hillsborough Co pound’s plan is to have a TNR program and then beat compassionate TNR colony caregivers over the head with their citation book, I’d say their plan sucks.  Like some other things at the pound.

New Study Indicates Vasectomies Might Reduce Feral Cat Populations Most Effectively

We have discussed tubal ligations and vasectomies for dogs and cats on this blog before with a focus on the potential benefits for puppies in shelters.  National Geographic published an article yesterday on a recent study showing the potential benefits of using vasectomies to control feral cat populations.

If you are unfamiliar with tubal ligations and vasectomies for pets, here is an excellent primer.  Basically they are surgical procedures to render pets incapable of reproduction and are far less invasive than traditional spay-neuter.  The procedures allow pets to keep their gonads, and their hormones, and therefore do not affect breeding behavior.  As such, Dr. Khuly notes that tubal ligations and vasectomies for cats are not likely to offer much benefit for owners:

They’re just not behaviorally amenable to in-home living when their ovaries and testicles hold such aggressive sway over their behavior.

But for feral cats, the implications are different:

Using a computer model, the researchers found that colonies of feral cats that were trapped, given vasectomies or hysterectomies, and released (TVHR) shrank faster than colonies that were trapped, neutered, and released (TNR), a method of feral cat control promoted by many cat advocates.

Feral cats live in groups that are controlled by a dominant male. A vasectomy cuts the tube that carries sperm without removing a cat’s testicles, so a vasectomized cat retains its sexual hormones. Thus, it can also keep its dominant position in the colony, so it’s able to mate with females without producing kittens.

Neutered feral tomcats who are returned to their colonies lose their position and another intact male takes over.  Intact females are also impacted because, after mating with a vasectomized male, the female comes out of heat for 45 days which reduces the amount of time she has to become pregnant.

The study’s authors caution that the theory needs to be tested in live cat colonies to see if the computer model’s projections pan out.  And there are some potentially negative ramifications as far as behavior goes – specifically tomcat spraying and fighting – which has been a selling point of traditional TNR.

My thinking is that vasectomies could be another tool in the toolbox in managing feral cat populations.  TVHR might work better in rural colonies where the tomcats’ behavior is unlikely to cause complaints from residents than in urban colonies.  And that’s if the computer model’s success translates to real life results.

PA Township Plans Weekend Cat Killing Spree

In Cumberland Co, PA, a toddler was reportedly attacked by a rabid feral cat.  The local ABC affiliate reports the kid “is expected to be fine”.  In response, the South Newton Township contracted a company called The CritterGetter to trap and kill cats within the township on September 7 and 8, 2013.

South Newton Township is advising all residents to keep their pets indoors during the two trapping days.

No kidding.  But if your beloved pet does get out and end up in a trap?  Sucks being you I guess.  Sucks even more being your cat since he’ll be killed by some method not stated in the news piece.

In addition to the inevitability of killing owned pets during the planned two day kill-fest, feral cats have a right to live and should not be killed in a misguided response to an unfortunate and very rare incident.  If the township is going to the trouble of trapping them, why not vaccinate the cats for rabies, neuter them and return them in order to make a meaningful contribution toward protecting public health and reducing the cats’ numbers over time?

After public outcry, The CritterGetter has backed out of the job.  And pressure is mounting for local community leaders to cancel the killings and come up with an alternative plan.

Alley Cat Allies, claiming to be the nation’s largest advocacy group for cats, has offered a free rabies vaccination clinic for all animals in the township if supervisors rescind their order to catch and kill feral cats.

Volunteers are also trying to put together a TNR program in the township.

If anyone sees an update on this story, please share.

(Thank you Arlene for the link.)

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