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.
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.”
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.”