Florida FWC takes stab at free-roaming issue


While many veterinarians agree that free-ranging cats have had free rein in Florida for too long, they're fiercely divided over how to solve the problem.

While many veterinarians agree that free-ranging cats have had free rein in Florida for too long, they're fiercely divided over how to solve the problem.

At presstime, both sides planned to voice their positions at a late MayFlorida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) meeting. FWC is issuing a proposalfor public debate on whether to oppose trap-neuter-release (TNR) of free-rangingcats statewide.

Brevard County is one example of many locales that have used TNR forfree-ranging cats, having legalized it in 1999. When city leaders reconvenedin 2003, they agreed the trapping plan "hasn't worked out too well,"says Dr. Christine Storts, of Cape Canaveral, who advocates the abolishmentof TNR programs in Florida.

There are believed to be at least 100,000 free-roaming cats in BrevardCounty alone - a figure that is said to have doubled since 1999.

"Trap-neuter-release is just too easy. It's a half-baked approachto solving the problem," she says.

Nonsense, says Dr. Julie Levy of the University of Florida, who publisheda paper on the effectiveness of TNR, and has helped to sterilize about 2,000cats a year in veterinary volunteer-staffed monthly clinics.

"We all agree there are too many cats in the environment,"Levy says. "We're taking the approach of trying to reduce that numberby neutering. The people who don't want us to do that aren't willing todo an alternative.

"TNR is the only method that's been documented to work to reducecat populations," Levy says. She and others studied a cat colony thatwas monitored for 11 years. The population was reduced from 68 cats downto 23 cats as reported in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"It's been very successful and has been performed without any publicmoney," she says.

AVMA also has a position statement accepting and explaining proceduresfor performing TNR.

Levy adds, "You can't argue with published data. What I would askis give me an example where removal of cats has controlled cats over thelong term."

Storts instead offered anecdotal evidence from colleagues, discountingthe use of TNR.

"I've heard from groups around the state that the same problem (withTNR) is occurring." Storts adds, "People like the Audubon Societyand local veterinary associations aren't being informed. All of a suddenthey realize what's going on. The threat to wildlife and the risk to publichealth is just huge, Storts says."

In a broad sense, she says, "We're going to need to develop a strongercoalition between public health, veterinary associations, the public, humanesocieties and wildlife groups."

In response Brevard County commissioners have formed an advisory groupof representatives from local organizations, including veterinary groups,to revise existing policies. Revisions include increasing pet owner educationabout leash laws and establishing no-kill shelters and sanctuaries to housefree-ranging cats. They expect to vote on their new policies by early summer.

But Storts says they're a day late in handling the free-roaming cat issuethat has "exploded" in recent years.

Storts already took her case to the state level. While the FWC isn'tmaking recommendations, it is stating it's opposed to the creation and maintenanceof the TNR programs, she says. They suggest the government's land managementtake the role of eliminating all free-roaming cats.

As written, the policy would apply to feral cats and domestically ownedcats, Levy says, because FWC has jurisdiction over Florida's public andprivate land.

"We feel this is very short-sighted and an invasion of propertyrights of an owner who may have their own pet cats on their private propertyor who may have neutered colonies of feral cats on their private property,"she says.

Besides, adds Levy, elimination of cat colonies has only been provento work if cats lived on uninhabited islands.

Regardless, Levy expects that if the policy takes effect, lawmakers won'tbe far behind in the passage of anti-TNR laws. Currently no laws addressTNR.

"I'm not sure (of) the immediate effect, but it would lay the groundworkfor potential passage of laws that don't allow TNR," suggests Levy.

For now, Levy expects the FWC meeting to be "filled with peopleon both sides of the issue."

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