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A Feral Cats Plea to Palm Coast: Time to Adopt Trap, Neuter and Return Rather than Kill

| August 31, 2013

There are less lethal alternatives to Palm Coast's feral cat problem. (Michael Newton)

There are less lethal alternatives to Palm Coast’s feral cat problem. (Michael Newton)

By Elizabeth Robinson

There is so much natural beauty to appreciate in Palm Coast that when I first moved here six years ago I didn’t notice that there was something amiss in my new city.

elizabeth-robinson150It wasn’t long before I realized that there was a troubling phenomenon in the backdrop of daily life here. Everywhere I went, there were feral cats: cats behind the supermarket where I shopped; cats in the woods beside the strip mall where I did errands; cats out by the dumpster behind my favorite restaurant; cats taking refuge in a friend’s garage; cats in vacant lots; cats my neighbor was feeding in the cul-de-sac.

Some of the feral cats we see look bony and tattered. They crouch in the shadows on high alert, ready to run the moment someone approaches. Others appear friendly and reasonably healthy. Many have had human contact their whole lives. They may once have been someone’s pet. These cats will let you get close. They tend to laze in the sun, as if a patch of cement with cars whizzing by is a natural place to be.

But regardless of their appearance, all the cats are intently focused on one thing: the arrival of their feeders. Many residents feed feral cats on their property or at locations around the city. The cats depend on these meals. Sometimes this caretaking relationship goes on for years. Feeders often come to know the habits of each cat in their colony. They can recognize when cats are sick, and they mourn when they are missing.

These feral caretakers often find themselves at odds with residents who resent the presence of the cats. Feeding can attract scavenger birds and raccoons. The more careless feeders leave a litter trail of paper plates and rusty cans.

In some cases, the dispute over cats pits neighbor against neighbor. One resident is caring for ferals on her property while another is calling animal control to complain. There are often suspicions and accusations that residents unhappy about the cats are hurting and even poisoning them. The tension level ratchets up with the size of the colony. There are sections of Palm Coast where residents report 20 to 30 feral cats roaming a six-block radius. If you are someone who doesn’t want the cats there, you can feel as though you’re under siege.

After I came to understand the magnitude of the problem here I wondered how it happened. I wanted to know what was being done, or not done, by this community that is so overrun.

There are several factors contributing to the problem, the most central being that not enough cat owners are spaying and neutering their pets. There is also the long mating season that occurs in warm climates. Kitten season in this region lasts  from April through October, at least.

But there is something else that Palm Coast is rejecting that municipalities across the country, including elsewhere in northern Florida, are adopting to reduce their feral cat populations. It is called Trap, Neuter and Return.

Free-roaming cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, given a rabies shot and returned to where they came from. An ear is notched to indicate that a cat has been fixed. Colonies begin shrinking. If TNR efforts are consistent, there will be far fewer new births. The cats that remain are healthier, roam less and exhibit fewer aggressive or nuisance behaviors.

TNR is widely embraced by animal welfare groups as the best means of population control. It is endorsed by the ASPCA and The Humane Society of the United States.

The most effective TNR programs usually involve large grants or the redirection of municipal funds, but volunteer efforts that make no demands on public treasuries still get results.

Jacksonville, Deland, Port Orange and Flagler Beach are among the growing list of cities and towns that have adopted TNR programs. Cities are turning to the protocol not only because it is humane, but because it is cost effective.

Port Orange estimates that its new TNR pilot program will realize a $125,000 reduction in shelter impound and euthanasia fees. Multiple long-term studies have definitively shown that TNR reduces the size of managed cat colonies.

Meanwhile, TNR is illegal in Palm Coast. Our city continues the outdated and very expensive strategy of trap and kill. The city can’t get ahead of the problem. Yet city officials stay committed to the notion that systematically killing cats is the way to manage an animal population.

As an animal advocate and a taxpayer, that is not what I want my government to do. So, six months ago I worked with a group of concerned residents to form Community Cats of Palm Coast, an organization dedicated to the promotion and practice of TNR. We are circulating a petition asking the city to change its ordinances to allow TNR and permit the existence of feral cat colonies already present within city boundaries. The petition has been signed by more than 2,000 people and can be found at the offices of most local veterinarians, and at groomers and pet stores.

It is time for our city to address cat overpopulation in a way that residents can feel good about. An abundance of free-roaming cats is an old problem in Palm Coast but one that requires a new and forward-thinking solution.

Elizabeth Robinson, a Community Cats of Palm Coast founder and Palm Coast resident, can be reached by email here. The organization’s Facebook page is accessible here.

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18 Responses for “A Feral Cats Plea to Palm Coast: Time to Adopt Trap, Neuter and Return Rather than Kill”

  1. Nancy says:

    I have lived in Palm Coast almost 10 years and I love it.

    Until I read:

    ” Meanwhile, TNR is illegal in Palm Coast. ” ! !

    That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

    TNR W O R K S

    Our block got together and chipped in to get all our, what I call Loaner Cats [just on loan to us from some family who could most likely no longer afford to care for them] to Flagler Cats low cost spay/neuter program. We borrowed their traps, and TNRed all of them…starting with a Mom and 7 kittens. They were returned to right back where they started from…our front and back porches where they got their daily meals.

    Do you have any idea how many kittens those 7 kittens would have produced!

    Elizabeth, thank you so much for bringing this incomprehensibly stupid law to our attention. We must circulate this petition electronically, in addition to trying to track it down at vet offices. Perhaps you already have it posted on Facebook.

    Is there a specific # of signatures we need?

    What can we do to help?

    “The petition has been signed by more than 2,000 people and can be found at the offices of most local veterinarians, and at groomers and pet stores.”

    • Thanks Nancy! Good to hear what you did on your block. There’s so much than can be accomplished when neighbors work together. Most of the petition signatures have been gathered out in the community but there is an electronic version on the Community Cats of Palm Coast facebook page. If you could help share it, that would be great! If you like our page, or sign up through the website,, we will be sure to keep you updated on meetings or actions being taken on the TNR issue.

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    Well, the good news is we have finally found something that is actually growing in Palm Coast, the feral cat population. It’s not much, but in the spirit of the Life/Lemons/Lemonade bromide, I would like to make a Modest Proposal.

    Port Orange spends $125,000.00 a year on tying feline fallopians? We don’t have that kind of cash! Being as how the only thing we have proven to be capable of these days here in Flagler is Short Sales and breeding wild cats, and seeing as how BOA and Wells Fargo has the SS profits nailed down, we have to find a way to turn Cats into Cash. You know in many countries cats are an important and traditional source of protein for the local populace. While this sounds outrageous initially and disgusting to our refined palates, bear with me. And think about how revolted a Vietnamese chef would be watching a hot dog being made, and we eat them daily without hesitation. Or worse, a Big Mac. Besides, if you yourself has ever frequented a cheap Chinese takeout, chances are good that you have already sampled Kung-Pao Kitty, and it did not kill you. Hell you probably enjoyed it.

    And look at the benefits. It is one of those non-traditional revenue streams that in no way affects Corporations or The Rich, so you know the Tea Party folks will climb aboard. And at least until the Social Security COLA is indexed, Grandma won’t be driving up the price of Catmeat (KittyBurger, the Other white meat!) by buying local, so we will export most of it. So it will not only keep our property taxes low, but reduce our trade imbalance with China! Win/Win! All we have to do is find a cheap way to fatten up our admittedly scrawny herd.

    And if this is successful, maybe we can move on to the other infestations that we are cursed with here in Palm Coast one by one. Anybody know a good recipe for Realtor? Hey wait!! You think a Feral Cat would eat a Realtor? Only one way to find out.

  3. Diane Voigt says:

    Elizabeth Robinson’s clear and logical presentation of the feral and outside cat problems in Palm Coast is both timely and necessary. TNR is the only effective and humane way to address and control the overpopulation of cats. It is time that Palm Coast officials talk to their colleagues in Port Orange to learn how that community has implemented TNR. The Port Orange program has been so successful that both DeLand and Edgewater are adopting similar programs in their communities. If they don’t want to talk to Port Orange, how about Jacksonville or Montgomery County Maryland or any of the hundreds of other communities that have on-going and well run TNR programs.

    Palm Coast is quick to say that it likes the trap and neuter part of TNR but they don’t want the animals returned to where they have been living. Some Palm Coast officials have suggested that they be taken someplace after being fixed but they become very vague when asked exactly where they should go.

    TNR is proven. TNR is effective. TNR saves money. TNR is humane. I’m having a hard time seeing the down side.

  4. Nancy says:

    NortonSmitty – someone should smack you on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. At least you left Soylent Kitty off your proposal list…thank you for that..
    btw, I love Realtors…they are delicious.
    … : )
    p.s. now go sign that petition!

  5. Common Sense says:

    What a logical program. That means the city will never go for it.

    I will sign the petition and make a donation.

  6. Will says:

    Support TNR. It makes sense and is humane.

  7. agnese says:

    As with the school board, these people responsible for this also should be voted out of office. Palm Coast is in desperate need of a clean slate !

  8. Reaper says:

    Cats eat rats. Rats carry diseases. Cats catch the diseases. They transfer them to humans. That’s how the BLACK PLAGUE spread thru Europe and killed 1/3 of the population.

  9. George Price says:

    The “other” side to the cats, uis the fact that they keeo down the population of other not so nice “mice” and even occasionally sbakes. GOPrice

    • Sunny says:

      Which reduces the available food for indigenous animals like owls, eagles, hawks, fox, bobcat etc. the feral cats are an invasive species and that impacts our native populations drastically.

  10. Shocked, I tell you... says:

    @ Woodsman:

    “Direct and Immediate irreversible consequences?”

    Ever heard of the Anti-Cruelty laws? Intentionally killing a cat is a criminal offense in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, regardless of ownership. Anti-cruelty laws apply to all cats—companion, abandoned, lost, and feral.

    Your ass is going to jail is somebody catches you doing this.

  11. Sharon Santry says:

    My husband and I stopped for gas at a 7-Eleven in Port Orange this evening and were surprised and strangely delighted to see approximately 20 cats lounging blissfully in the sun as cars whizzed by. I asked a store employee if anyone fed or otherwise cared for these cats and was relieved to find out that half are neutered and the colony is being supervised.

    I have worked in the past with Lower Keys Friends of Animals – a TNR group in Key West. I, along with a few neighbors, were successful in achieving zero cat population growth in our neighborhood. It took about 2 years of vigilance but we now have a safe, healthy colony.

    The TNR system does work but it must be consistent and it takes a whole lot of patience.

  12. Sharie Pallone says:

    Adobt and CARE for you cat! We rescued a cat that was found in a rest area trash can that someone delivered to the local shelter. I can say this cat was the love of my life for 13 years until he passed giving me some of the most joyus memories.

  13. Patty says:

    I have a farm. We have one feral cat. Don’t kill them them can come live with me. I’ll even come pick them up.

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