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Mulling Nuisances, Palm Coast Putters Closer to Trap, Neuter and Release of Feral Cats

| December 18, 2014

Voted for Heidi Shipley. (Phil Roeder)

Voted for Heidi Shipley. (Phil Roeder)

When it comes to feral cats, Palm Coast is edging toward being a trap, neuter and release city (what’s commonly referred to as TNR), with city government, the Flagler Humane Society and other cat advocacy organizations slowly crafting agreement on how to proceed. But the city is not there yet, and whatever the outcome, Palm Coast will still prioritize the treatment of feral cats as nuisances the moment residents or businesses complain of certain cats as such.

For now the city pays the society $75 for every cat Palm Coast’s animal control personnel brings there. The fate of those cats is not the most humane: absent adoption, they get euthanized. TNR’s alternative is the increasingly common way of dealing with communities’ stray-cat issues. Instead of rounding up and exterminating cats wholesale, as the old model went, TNR rounds them up, neuters them, then returns them to their former habitat. Since the cats have been neutered, procreation ends with them, and theoretically the feral cat population either stabilizes or declines.

Flagler Beach adopted that approach in the summer of 2013, taking advantage of a $25,000 grant the humane society secured to underwrite the cost of neutering some 650 of the city’s 900 feral cats. There’s more of that money to be distributed through such organizations as Florida Animal Friends Inc. But grants aren’t awarded to cities that aren’t officially—through their ordinances and practices—TNR cities.  Palm Coast has been more resistant to adopt an ordinance, which so far has meant that the society could not apply for a grant to cover Palm Coast’s cats.

The city fears appeasing rather than controlling the feral cat population—a fear TNR advocates say is groundless. But the city council’s two newest members, Heidi Shipley and Steven Nobile, are TNR advocates who campaigned on the issue, and Jason DeLorenzo hasn’t been unfriendly to the cause, so politically the council is poised to make a shift toward TNR. The question is how far of a shift.

Shipley brought up the matter at a council workshop last week, noting that the city is essentially two-thirds of the way there  with trapping and neutering already. “So from what people think of trap and kill, that’s not us,” Shipley said, “we’re trap and we’re giving them money to take care of the cats, just not let them put them in someone’s back yard again.” In a subsequent interview, Shipley spoke favorably of a model where feral cats that have been trapped and neutered could then be released on public land, in empty lots or in places where they’re not likely to pose a nuisance. It’s not necessarily returning them to the very location where they were picked up, but it’s the return part of TNR all the same.

“Kind of in a way we are TNR, we do allow them to release onto Palm Coast property if it’s empty lot or land, but not back to an actual person’s house,” Shipley said.

A political shift on the city council gives TNR proponents their strongest advantage to pass a cat-friendly ordinance in the new year.

The hybrid model is nothing new, says Flagler Humane Society Executive Director Amy Wade-Carotenuto, and it should put the Palm Coast City Council’s mind at ease that stray cats that damage or foul anyone’s property may still be picked up, brought to the society, and kept there either for eventual adoption or euthanizing, but not a return to the cat’s former digs.

“Having a TNR program in place so you’re reducing the feral cat population doesn’t preclude the city from being able to respond to nuisance complaints, it’s possible to do both at once,” says Elizabeth Robinson, who heads Community Cats of Palm Coast. “There are policies that can be struck where both things can live together. Each city crafts its own approach, and not all cities just blanketly stop responding to nuisance complaints.”

Last week, Jim Landon, the city manager—who’s been in discussions on the matter with Wade-Carotenuto—said he’s waiting on a written proposal from the humane society to proceed. “They haven’t come back with any specifics yet. It’s that time of year though. I wouldn’t expect it until after the 1st,” Landon said. “When it gets down to it, whether it’s a cat, a dog, trash, whatever it is, if it becomes a nuisance for one of our residents or businesses, we address that nuisance, and we address it by sending the cat to the Humane Society and let them decide how they’re going to then deal with that cat. That’s the process right now. If they can find a better place for that cat that doesn’t create a nuisance, I haven’t heard anything.”

Wade-Carotenuto said in an interview that she’d sent proposals to the city.

“Some of it is trying to really define what is a nuisance,” she said, as some people call and complain when they just see a cat. “That shouldn’t be considered a nuisance, a nuisance is destroying property, cats spraying when they’re not neutered, but a lot of those things are taken care of when they’re neutered.” A lot of it is handled with education, too. “Really, truly, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, even for the people that don’t like cats, TNR is the quickest way to help them with their issue, because nothing is going to make the stray cat problem go away overnight. Nothing. But for decades, there was just no other answer, and shelters were forced to euthanize. That obviously didn’t work. So TNR is definitely something that Palm Coast needs to try.”

Heidi Sjipley. (© FlaglerLive)

Heidi Shipley. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s been tried before, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts says. “We have tried TNR twice in the past, and what happens is, it starts off initially well, then you start looking, and the colony is twice as big as when you started, and there are a lot of cats with not notched ears, and the amount of food that’s being put out by well-intentioned volunteers far exceeds the demands of that colony,” Netts said. “So you’re attracting more and more and more. The whole idea of a TNR program is that over time the population should decrease. We experienced the exact opposite in two different locations at two different times. It’s got to be better managed.”

But Wade-Carotenuto says the city never officially took the TNR approach. It experimented. “They’ve never changed their ordinance,” she said. “There’s things that have been tried, they set up a fenced in colony, which actually is on the Humane Society property, but that’s a quite different thing. That’s not TNR. TNR is trap, neuter, return. Putting a fence up and putting a bunch of cats in a fence, that maybe the answer for those cats.” But the issue is “bigger than what you can put in a fence somewhere.”

Ultimately, Wade-Carotenuto said, it’s for the city to write its ordinance. “There’s model ordinances all over the country,” the humane society director said. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, the best thing to do is take the wording from some of the many, many cities that have adopted TNR. But we will provide them with wording for sure.”

If council members are under the impression that the releasing part is already happening though, the humane society director disabused them of the notion. Releasing is not taking place. When a cat is brought in, “anybody that can be rehabilitated, if we can calm them down and get them to where they’re adoptable, that happens.” But that’s the minority of cats. “The ones from Palm Coast, more of them than not are being euthanized, that’s why we’re campaigning for this not to happen anymore. This will be life-saving, money saving, and again, even for the people that want to get rid of the cats, this is the quickest way to go about it.”

And, Wade-Carotenuto stressed, none of it will take away the city’s power to exercise its authority against nuisance cats.

One other matter that had previously given the council and the city administration pause: the seemingly fractured nature of the cat-advocacy world in the county, which counts several organizations. But that, too, appears no longer to be the issue, with the humane society—the city’s preferred lead agency—heading the TNR initiative.

“If that’s what they’re comfortable with, I’m fine with that,” Robinson, the Community Cats of Palm Coast founder, said. “The Flagler Humane Society applied for the Flagler Beach grant. Our organization worked with them an achieved the goals of the grant.”

“I think they understand the parameters,” Mayor Netts said of the humane society, “and I haven’t heard anybody not understanding the parameters. Then it’s a matter of how they can work through that.”

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23 Responses for “Mulling Nuisances, Palm Coast Putters Closer to Trap, Neuter and Release of Feral Cats”

  1. Well... says:

    Feral cats are less of a nuisance than the citizens of this town.

  2. local bird says:

    TNR is a sad case of well-intending people focusing on one poster-friendly species while ignoring the other 40+ that were here first.
    Releasing feral cats (non-native species) into any environment disrupts the natural ecological relationship in our local ecosystem. Numerous independent scientific research studies determined feral cats to be one of the top 100 worst invasive species on the planet. Thats right- on the PLANET.
    Where is an invasive cat’s “rights” being considered greater than that of our native song bird, small mammal, and amphibian population? Palm Coast, of course.

    • Marvelous says:

      Great point. The non-native species feral population should be adopted out or euthanized. Releasing them still does damage

    • Judy McGovern says:

      About 70 % of Americans have no idea what TNR is about, so for those of you that oppose it I would suggest you do your homework and check with Best Friends or Alley Cat Allies or the local Humane Society. They have websites posted with full explanations, statistics and anything else you would be open to learn. And for the “bird lovers” the bird conservation groups claim as many as 3.7 billion birds die each year in the U.S. because of cats, which is impossible because we don’t even have near 4 billion birds in North America-they would be all gone. Also the Blue Moon Sanctuary is not a TNR program as many are led to believe. The definition of a sanctuary as applied to animals reads: A reserved area in which animals or herds are protected from hunting or molestation. The cats that are there were not living there in the beginning, they were placed there for their safety to live out the rest of their natural life. We should all strive to learn to live with our animals making this a community we can be proud of.

  3. TomC says:

    I hope the City of Palm Coast totally withdraws . This is a colossal waste of money.

    • Elizabeth Robinson says:

      Actually TomC. The city will spend less with TNR than it has spent over the last few years euthanizing cats. The savings with TNR are well documented in other cities. TNR reduces the feral cat population which reduces nuisance complaints, animal control costs, shelter intake fees and euthanasia.

      • JJ says:

        TNR is not a feral cat population reduction plan. It is a “keep the cats alive no matter what the cost to people, property, or wildlife” plan. Cat colonies encourage people to dump cats. They see these groups of cats being fed and think that would be a good place to dump their own cats. There is no published peer-reviewed study anywhere in the world that shows TNR significantly reducing feral cat populations in any area larger than a college campus. None. The mayor stated it perfectly. Why do this a third time?

        Remove the cats as you can, starting with the largest, most troublesome colonies. Adopt out those which are suitable for adoption. Euthanize those which are injured or diseased. Allow the cat advocates to keep those that are wild in enclosures on their own property if they wish to (subject to animal quantity limits laws). Euthanize the rest. Require shelters to accept all cats brought to them. If property owners are willing to trap the cats themselves, they must have a facility they can take them to where they know the cats won’t simply be returned to their neighborhood or dumped somewhere else only to become someone else’s problem.

        For long-term solutions to prevent re-population by abandoned cats:

        1) Enact and enforce mandatory spay/neuter laws for all pet cats.
        2) Enact and enforce mandatory licensing and micro-chipping requirements for all pet cats.
        3) Enact and enforce leash/containment laws for all pet cats.
        4) Enact and enforce anti-feeding laws for feral cats.
        5) Enact and enforce garbage containment laws for individuals and businesses.

        License fees could be used to help low-income pet owners with spay/neuter and micro-chipping expenses. Micro-chipping of all pet cats will make it easy to distinguish pets from ferals which will prevent accidental euthanasia of escaped pets in addition to quickly reuniting lost pets with their owners. With a little encouragement, neighborhoods will often self-police and report feral cat-feeders, as the vast majority of people do not appreciate large numbers of cats roaming around. License/leash laws for dogs were initially met with opposition, but we now universally agree they are a good thing. The same will be true with cats. These cat advocate groups should use their money to provide free spay/neuter for owned pets instead of wasting it on TNR.

  4. downinthelab says:

    Really. $75?

    I’ll be setting my traps more often then. The Taco Bell pays much less..

  5. Kitten Cat says:

    The kitties don’t deserve to be euthanized for any reason …. Homeless people in palm coast on every corner are a nuisance but i don’t see them being brought to a shelter and possibly killed same concept both living beings! Save the Kitties! Go Heidi Shipley!!!

  6. DisgustedinPC says:

    I hope they do this. I am not a cat hater,we have one, but I also wish they would do something to people who just turn their cats out. I have a neighbor that has 8 or 9 cats* last they told me it was 9 but some were kittens) and they just turn them out. They have destroyed flower beds,terrorize my dog (we are privacy fenced and they sit on other side) and just are all over the place. No shots and obviously not neutered.

  7. Edman says:

    TNR sounds good but it does nothing to curtail a cat’s instinct to hunt and kill birds. The number of birds that would die from feral cat colonies is staggering and Audubon has documented declining numbers in many of our bird species already. Why should we compound this problem trying to deal with thoughtless cat owners who turn their cats out to live in the wild.

  8. SW says:

    Maybe we should sterilize some of the people who create this problem

  9. happening now says:

    Its all about the money folks.

    • Yes it is. TNR is a much more cost-effective solution than trap-and-kill. According to Best Friends Animals Society, “The city of Jacksonville, Florida, is a fine example of an area that has capitalized on non-lethal alternatives for controlling free-roaming cats. Over a three-year period (2007-2010), Jacksonville saved approximately 13,000 lives and $160,000. Equally important, feline nuisance complaints decreased during this period. “

  10. TNR is the only effective approach to managing the feral or community cat issue. According to the ASPCA, “At this time the most humane, effective and financially sustainable strategy for controlling free-roaming cat populations is trap-neuter-return (TNR), whereby free-roaming cats are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to their colony of origin.”

    TNR works. It has been adopted by many surrounding communities including Ormond Beach, Port Orange and it was just recently in New Smyrna Beach. These communities have seen their cat populations drop and their program’s effectiveness. Alley Cat Allies, one the leading organization of the TNR movement, also has scientific proof that TNR is a success (

    Yes community cats can damage property; however, if something is digging in your yard or through your trash it is most likely a raccoon, squirrel, or opossum and not a cat. And yes, cats are not a native species and are invasive. But why are they there in the first place? It’s because of us. Just the Boa Constrictors and other snakes and reptiles that reek havoc in other parts of Florida, it is because of the humane population that we have these problems, not because of the animals.

  11. buylocal says:

    All this money spent may end up being a Coyote’s or Bobcat’s meal.

  12. Animal Lover says:

    TNR works! It’s time for the City to “get with the program”. This is such a backwards community in so many ways.

    • Outsider says:

      No, backwards is the suggestion that on top of paying to raise my own children, including extracurricular activities and schooling, I’m supposed to pay for everyone else’s kids, and the cats they dumped out on the highway too. I’m really not interested in taking on this burden, but if some of you feel so strongly about it, then pony up your own hard earned money and have at it; I won’t stop you. You may also want to read up on rabies, which I’ve had first hand experience with in Palm Coast, and then see if the little kitties are worth your own kids’ lives. By the way, my wife has already taken on three feral cats that now contribute quite handily to my grocery bill, so as I’ve said, I’m out.

      • The cost to trap, neuter and return would not be on taxpayers. Palm Coast has its own Animal Control department that residents are already paying for. Bunnell, Flagler Beach and the county contract animal services to Flagler Humane Society. There would be no new costs to taxpayers.

        Flagler Humane Society would be doing the surgeries and administering the vaccines. It is a non-profit organization so it can receive grants and donations to pay for these.

        Sorry, but I can’t give you any advice as what to tell you wife.

  13. local bird says:

    Perhaps if the local shelters didn’t charge $75+ to “accept” a cat ($100 if not fixed) less people would turn cats they are unable/unwilling to keep outside to become a nuisance. Think im joking about the fee? Call the Flagler “humane” society and ask. They call it a “surrender” fee.

    • Flagler Humane Society does charge a surrender fee of $65 for a cat. The $75 price is for Palm Coast Animal Control because Palm Coast does not have a municipal shelter or anywhere else to take them.

      Flagler Humane Society is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is not part of the county, any municipality or government entity. It charges a surrender fee because when animals are surrendered they become FHS property and the shelter assumes all rights and responsibilities that come with caring for it.

      It is easy to point fingers when it comes to this issue; but, this is another instance where we humans have caused the problem and now we need to deal with it in the most responsible way possible. TNR is the only effective way of dealing with community cats … and it works. Please don’t be closed minded on this and give TNR and these homeless cats a chance.

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