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Trap, Neuter and Return: Feral Cat Program Makes Progress in Flagler Beach, But Not in Palm Coast

| April 14, 2014

The trap, neuter and release approach aims to end cat massacres. (Steve Jurvetson)

The trap, neuter and return approach aims to end cat massacres. (Steve Jurvetson)

In July the Flagler Humane Society won a $25,000 grant to trap, neuter and release feral cats and teamed up with the Flagler Beach City Commission to implement the snipping in the city, which had about 900 feral cats at the time. The goal: neuter 652 of them.

The city is on its way. Some 265 cats have been fixed so far, according to Elizabeth Robinson, director of Community Cats of Palm Coast, which has been pushing for TNR’s adoption in local communities. But when Flagler Beach accepted the project, it did not update its animal ordinance accordingly. By not officially legalizing TNR, it left many residents who care for feral cats, and often trap and neuter them at their own expense, either fearful of openly taking care of cats or reluctant to participate in the new campaign.

Last week, the Flagler Beach City Commission fixed its ordinance. The occasion drew much applause from TNR supporters and provided a boon for advocates who want to see the practice extended to Palm Coast. But the occasion also drew some rebukes from TNR opponents—thus reviving the tension at the heart of the issue and leaving some commissioners uncomfortable with an open-ended TNR ordinance: they have agreed to put a time limit on it.

The city manager was clearly not thrilled about the ordinance from a code-enforcement point of view. “It can be very difficult for us to know exactly where they came from and where they should have gone and who’s doing what,” Bruce Campbell said, referring to feral cats. “We get a complaint and we’d have to take a week to try to investigate all of this. It’s more difficult than it might appear if there are problems.”

As for some residents’ questions about how to resolve the unwanted presence of stray cats in their yards, those were not answered. The way the issue played out gave both sides reason to hope.

The fixing of 265 cats prevented the birth of an additional 2,000 cats locally, Robinson estimated. When cities are overrun with feral cats, they can choose to have a big problem by continuing to attempt to kill their way out of it, Robinson said, or they can contain the problem with TNR.

Elizabeth Robinson

Elizabeth Robinson

“As we’ve seen,” Robinson told commissioners, “the outmoded approach of trap and kill is inhumane, it’s expensive, and it’s ineffective. Cities who try to kill their way out of the problem fail, and they do so with a high burden to taxpayers. So, big problem, then. Flagler Beach appears to be ready to implement the policies that forward-thinking cities across the country and here in Florida are embracing, and by voting for this revised ordinance you’re positioning this city to have a program that really can work. The feedback I’ve received from residents who are caring for feral cats suggests a timidity due to confusion over what’s legal and what’s permissible—the feeding ban, the TNR program, they were confused. That hasn’t been helpful in getting more participation in the program, and a revised ordinance should bring clarity.”

The grant was part of $354,600 distributed statewide by Florida Animal Friend Inc., the non-profit that administers revenue from the state’s spay-neuter license plates. The program is an indication of the emerging trend of moving away from trapping and euthanizing feral cats: Jacksonville and Port Orange have adopted ordinances formalizing a trap, neuter and release program (otherwise known as TNR). Proponents of TNR consider it a more humane and less expensive way to reduce feral populations, as feral cats live only a few years, and by neutering them, their line eventually dies off.

But TNR has its opponents, who are themselves backed by local government’s entrenched custom of generally killing stray cats once captured. It’s also been difficult to convince some residents of the counterintuitive benefit of releasing back to nature the stray cat populations that are, in residents’ eyes, a problem. Some residents claim that the cats pose a rabies problem—a very unlikely possibility Amy Carotenuto of the Flagler Humane Society was quick to dismiss: in her 30 years of work with humane societies, she’s never once laid eyes on a rabies-infected cat.


Community Cats of Palm Coast has been pushing the TNR approach in Palm Coast, but with no formal success so far. The issue has on rare occasions made it before city council members, but only during public comment segments. Council members themselves have shown no inclination to change their ordinance, and the city administration, whose code enforcement department controls the treatment of stray animals, has not followed Flagler Beach’s lead.

In early winter a coalition of animal-advocacy groups that included the Flagler Humane Society, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Target Zero Institute and Community Cats of Palm Coast, met with City Manager Jim Landon and Code Enforcement Manager Barbara Grossman with a proposal: the humane society would spay or neuter any feral cat brought in by the city’s animal control officers, at a cost of $35, as long as the cat is then released. For the city, that would represent a saving of $40 per cat, since the city pays a $75-a-cat intake fee to the humane society for each animal it traps. Most of those are euthanized. Despite the projected savings, the city has not changed its approach.

Judy McGovern of Palm Coast hopes that will change. She turned out at the Flagler Beach meeting in hopes of seeing the ordinance pass for its own sake, but also as a way to add pressure on (or further inspire) Palm Coast to follow suit. “We have a tremendous overflow of cats in Palm Coast, and the same thing that she said, people who feed are afraid to come out and feed, they get threatened, shot at, it’s incredible what they go through just to try to take care of these animals,” McGovern said. “Feeders don’t ask for help, they don’t as for food. They buy out of their pocket, they take the cats to the vet and pay for these things themselves. They’re not asking the city for money. But I do hope you’ll consider changing this ordinance and then it will help us in Palm Coast.”

Donn Pedersen of 1208 North Central Avenue in Flagler Beach sees it differently: “I have a terrible cat problem at my house,” he said. “At any given time there are 15 or 20 cats around my house.” The city’s code enforcement hasn’t been much help, though it’s issued the odd citation to the woman who keeps feeding the cats. “I’ve sent in pictures on several occasions of all the cats. It presents a real health hazard in that before I mow my grass, I have to clean up 50 to over 100 piles of cat poo. I can’t go outside to enjoy my yard in the summertime, because the cat stench is so bad. I’ve heard about the trap, neuter and release program, and so I’m here to address that, because I have this problem here. Trapping is great. Anybody wants to trap a cat, I’m all for it. Neuter ‘em, it’s a wonderful thing. You want to pay to neuter ‘em, neuter the part. It’s the release part that I have the problem with. They take the cat after they’re done and they bring ti back to the same place again. So if at the beginning of the day I have 20 cats in my yard and they’re going to bring them back again at the end of the day, I have 20 cats in my yard still. It’s the release part of this problem that doesn’t work. So I ask the question: where’s the end of this thing? Well, the cats will eventually die. OK. Well, how long before the cats die? Years. So you’re telling me I have to be able to live, not being able to enjoy my yard, and I have to clean up cat after cat all over my yard, an excessive amount, for years. It’s not healthy, it’s just not right. My life is just messed up because of all these cats, and yet everybody wants to do this release them back to the same place again.”

Pederson got support from a neighbor who called himself “in Don’s camp” and urged commissioners to find a way to exile the cats after they’ve been neutered, in what would amount to a forced relocation program.

Then Margorie Angelo spoke up. “I am quite proud to tell you that I am the lady they are referring to,” she said, recalling how the man who’d lived on her property before had fed feral cats for 11 years, never neutering a cat. It was his intent not to do so because he was worried he’d be caught with traps in his yard, violating the ordinance. Once the city started the TNR program, she got involved, spaying and neutering 28 cats. She’s offered to clean up the mess in Pederson’s yard, she’s done the rabies shots. “Now, and for the past six months,” Angelo said, “I have suffered tremendous humiliation, harassment, threats, and I have had to go into hiding, I can’t lead a normal life because people are clocking my activities, they’re taking photos of my yard.”

The change in the ordinance will carve out protection for caretakers of feral cats, with some limits. The city commission will take up the ordinance again on April 24, when it is scheduled to be adopted.

“I’m sorry we were remiss in not balancing this with the TNR program,” Kim Carneys, the commission chairman, said.  “We did buy into the grant. We should live up to our obligation to make the things match, not that it has to be forever.”

 

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21 Responses for “Trap, Neuter and Return: Feral Cat Program Makes Progress in Flagler Beach, But Not in Palm Coast”

  1. Renee Crenshaw says:

    TNR does work. It’s the only long-term effective method. It’s the short-sighted people who can’t see that. I am hoping to make Palm Coast my home within the next couple of years. I sure hope the city sees the light and participates because I WILL TNR when I get there ordinances or no.

  2. PCer says:

    Why do they insist on feeding the cats? I can understand getting the shots and neutering, but don’t feed them. They are feral, they have gone back to being wild animals. We don’t feed the opossums, bunnies, and squirrels – so why feed the cats. Let them hunt. They are very good at it and they will keep the rat and mouse population down. If they are getting fed, they are less likely to hunt. If there is no prey for them to hunt, then natures course will take care of them.

    • Sue says:

      If people would please spay and neuter their animals none of this would ever have to happen. TNR does work and I for one would not worry if these animals were on my property. These are amazing people trying they’re hardest to do what is best for these animals. Let’s try and support an amazing organization instead of criticizing what they are doing. Do any of the people complaining want to take these animals to a certain death? Let us all as a community deal with this situation in the most humane way possible. I for one would be more than happy to be a part of this organization. They are free to contact me.

    • judy mcgovern says:

      Perhaps you should educate yourself about feral cats. They are not wild and believe it or not, a great many are domestic cats that owners have dropped of for whatever reason, can’t afford to keep, don’t like, abused, not kittens any more, not allowed, whatever. These cats in particular are used to being fed and not familiar with the elements and conditions they are forced to live in. Most are not spayed or neutered, bingo, more kittens. In many of the “feral” colonies the feeders can pet and hold the cats. So, as you can see, it’s not a cat problem, it’s a people problem. Please refer to Alley Cats Allies website for a better understanding about feral cats, TNR and how we best can take care of the problem.

  3. Just wondering says:

    Do feral cats kill birds?

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, that is a big concern!

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Eventually.

    • ponder this says:

      Do birds kill other birds…you know, owls, eagles, hawks? Do birds kill butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, earthworms, bees, lizards? Are YOU vegetarian? If not, what makes your killing justified?

    • john says:

      Does any cat kill a bird, feral or domestic? Does a wild bear live in the woods???

    • Richard Robinson says:

      Yes, feral or not cats will hunt regardless of whether or not they are hungry. Cats instinctively hunt/kill prey for the game, not just for the food. Ever had or heard of a cat proudly dropping their kill on the door step or bringing their kill somewhere so everyone will see “their kill”. It is instinct and will happen regardless of you feeding them or not. It is a fact, ressearch it if need be.

  4. Jane DiBellucicona says:

    We must be vigilant for feline illnesses which are transmittable to their human caretakers.
    Monotrichinosis, Neuropluranitis, and Uromycetitis are often difficult to treat.
    Use gloves when coming into contact with feral cats and their harborage sites.

  5. RHWeir says:

    Yes, feral cats kill birds and other wildlife and they spread disease . People need to spay and neuter but they also need to keep their cats indoors, yes, indoors! Do not let your cat out. It’s cruel to the cat, hard on the wildlife and a nuisance to us all. Oh, if you move, don’t forget to take Fluffy and Bowser. Just letting them go or tossing them off a bridge is beyond cruel. That’s how I got my first cat, someone tried to toss her off the Oakland Park Bridge bridge in Ft Lauderdale when she was a kitten and I saved her. She was a loyal friend and companion for over 18 years. Keep your cat inside and be responsible for the animal.

  6. Bill says:

    feral cats are a invasive species and should be put down not treated as house pets. they kill many native animals

  7. Jim says:

    I have a simple solution….a bullet to the head for each feral cat. Done…now wasn’t that easy people??

  8. Stacey says:

    Educate yourselves please. There are not that many true ‘feral’ cats in this area. With foreclosures so high in the area, people are leaving cats behind. Many of these cats were pets. Spaying and neutering is responsible and reasonable. What a shame people seem so heartless.

    • Richard Robinson says:

      A feral cat is a cat that has left domestication and is no longer owned by a human, there are MANY of them. Unfortunately there are an absurd number of cats that are abandoned and thereore become feral due to having to live off the land so to speak. We have about 30 of them in my complex. They ganged up on a neighbors domesticated cat and killed it. It is a REAL problem and spay/neuter then dropping back off where you got them (which is against the law and falls under abandonment, Florida Statutes) does not fix the problem, it just prolongs the problem.

  9. kitty says:

    How can TNR be better & cheaper than euthanasia? Putting the stray cats down is final and they do not become a nuisance to the community and it is much cheaper than neutering. My vote is for TEI — Trap, Euthanize & Incinerate!

  10. not a cat lovr says:

    My house is surrounded by woods. A ‘left behind’ domestic now feral
    gave birth to 4 kittens in my yard. I was NEVER a cat lover. I am severely allergic.
    They were too cute not to feed. I had them all fixed and they got their shots. At my cost. I grew to love them. Funny, smart, interesting …they each had a different personality and a different role in their little family. They were not afraid of me but ran if anyone else so much as looked at them,
    Then a new neighbor moved in and HATED cats. The city was called, on their stupid and bogus leash law for cats, and they started to catch & kill the cats.
    I was heartbroken. I had no recourse whatsoever and couldn’t find a place to take them. I tried. I watched daily as I could not place food outside anymore but they could set a trap and place food in the trap. One, by one, was caught and killed.
    This topic disgusts me. BTW one lived through it and ultimately died a year later. Feral cats do not live long in the wild. TNR works. They will ultimately die within a few year,s at most. Cats are not meant to live outdoors.
    My neighbor, is still my neighbor. I have forgiven but will never forget their cruelty.
    The city? A bunch of idiots run the city. Animal Control. Again, idiots. They should at least hire compassionate people in Animal Control.. Not so much.
    Put it to a vote. I bet there are more animal lovers than not.

    • Richard Robinson says:

      Do you realize that the TNR process is to Trap them Neuter then Release them? So, contrary to what you have just put, TNR does put the cats back in the street. That is just as cruel to the animal for now they are again abandoned and left to fend for themselves. TNR is not the solution, it is a mask to make it look like they are helping when the problem doens’t get taken care of. The more feral cats we have (feral means introduced back into the wild) then the quicker we lose the native species to this area. Cats are not native to Florida, or North America for that matter, they were introduced to this area ( Fact ).

      • Jayedda Marsh says:

        I don’t know where you get your facts, but cats have been in North American since before your ancestors invaded here. All of you living on the coast should be concerned with sea birds, and the valid scientific studies show that if cats are eradicated the sea bird population will decline dramatically as cats control the predators that eat their eggs. The main enemy of birds is destruction of habitat and mankind does that. It never ceases to amaze me that cat haters use birds, yet TNR would do exactly what they are claiming they want reduction of the cat population. They are released back because they are territorial and will maintain a geographic area until the areas around can be spayed and neutered. It does work. Years ago in an industrial park there were over 40 cats, spayed and neutered, returned. Five years later there are two, some passed on, many adopted. An occasional new one shows up and gets spayed/neutered, I guess because of the low number of cats now they get taken in as warehouse cats in many cases. It does work. I love both birds and cats. Makes me very mad that birds are being used and invalid science is floating around the internet. As far as diseases, go to the CDC and read. There are some diseases that cats can spread, but if you continue reading your likelihood of getting them from a cat is about as likely as you getting sick from your cutting board. All of those diseases exist in Florida soil and will exist if cats are around or not. The CDC recommendation, wash your hands as I assume most of you are already do every day. Be careful what you ask for, years ago an HOA I lived in on the water, “removed” all cats, within six months they came home to find rats sitting in their living rooms and true invasive species sunning themselves on top their cars….to this day I don’t know too many of the residents who will leave their sliders open any more. Balance people, fear never works.

  11. Ann says:

    This isn’t working we have more feral cats than I have ever seen now, the ones waiting to be trapped continue to multiply at rapid rates. this is a problem countywide, Flagler Beach, Bunnell, and Palm Coast. Please don’t get me wrong I am an animal lover, however this is cruelty to animals allowing them to fend for themselves or expect do gooders to feed and take care of them. they are a heath hazard the way they hang around the restruants, that don’t feed them spread disease drop feces all over people yards com into peoples fenced yard because they climb
    and jump fences. and some look very sick and malnourished and diseased. Some are very mean trying to bite people and spreading feline diseases to our children.The Methodist Church in Bunnell continues to feed them after advised by the animal control officer and others which keeps them living at homes and nearby residents, restraunts. property oweners should not have to continually spent the cost to spray or threat their yards when they keep coming back and spred disease to there. pets and yes the more people we have out of homes of needing fooed we need to get ride off or thry to adopt these animals.
    , as it puts cost and burdens on othesr. Please wake up Flagler county this is unsanitary. It must stop

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