News: Creative Solutions: Dealing with Community Cats
Stray and feral cats are Community Cats
Trap/remove/kill versus Trap/neuter/vaccinate/return and Shelter/neuter/vaccinate return:
Kim Staton, Director
We receive a variety of calls related to cats in Osceola County and what is very clear is that there is tremendous confusion about how these cats can be and are dealt with in our community. In 2016, Osceola County Animal Services discontinued picking up stray or healthy trapped cats. There are many reasons that contributed to this decision not the least of which was the tremendous resource drain that occurred as a result of having officers engage in this activity day after day after day with no end in sight.
Another strong factor in moving away from traditional, trap, remove, and euthanize programs is that research has shown this approach does nothing to reduce the cat population in a given area. This was supported by the fact that in Osceola County alone, we were euthanizing approximately 3,000 cats and kittens each year, year after year, with no reduction in the free-roaming cat population or the number of cat related complaints we were receiving.
In 2018, we took a formal position to support a targeted trap/neuter/vaccinate/return (TNVR) and shelter/neuter/vaccinate/return (SNVR) approach, collectively the Community Cat Program. This was done to reduce the number of free-roaming cats in our community, the number of litters being born, and many of the unpleasant behaviors displayed by intact cats including fighting, spraying, and having litter after litter of kittens.
The goal of TNVR and SNVR is to break the reproductive cycle of cats who can be highly prolific having as many as three litters in just one year! We were also trying to drive the number of cats and kittens being brought into the shelter down so that we could get out of the business of euthanizing thousands of cats when we knew through research and our own experience it does nothing to solve the long-term problem. We also knew that if we could reduce the number of cats in our community via these programs, the number of complaints would decline, public safety would be enhanced, and tax payers would not be paying for thousands of animals to be needlessly killed every year.
We Listen to All Parties:
We understand both sides of the issue. We appreciate the fact that cats can and do cause legitimate problems including marking behaviors, fighting, getting on vehicles, digging in gardens, etc. We don’t want citizens in Osceola County to have to tolerate these nuisances which is why we work hard to resolve them.
We also know that we have some responsible feeders in our community who buy cat food from their own money and spend time feeding these animals. Most of them are wonderful folks who just want to help. We appreciate them!
Unfortunately, not all feeders are responsible. Feeders who have no regard for where they feed, how often, how much, or fail to maintain proper sanitation in feeding areas are only hurting the animals they profess to love. They are creating an intolerable situation for others that may force us to remove cats, reducing live outcome options. If you are feeding cats, please be aware of the laws that apply, comply with them, and be respectful of those who have concerns or problems with cats.
How to feed:
Feeding habits are critical to the safety of these cats. It is important not to overfeed, leaving food behind to attract rats, ants, and wildlife. Feed only enough that it can be consumed by the cats in about 45 minutes then remove any remaining food. Leaving food out at night is a citable offense due to the fact that it attracts wildlife that can carry rabies. This practice puts the cats, other pets, and people at risk.
Cats need to be fed at the same location around the same time to create consistency. The cats will learn quickly when feeding time is. Do not trespass to feed cats. If the property on which you are feeding cats does not belong to you, you must have the consent of the property owner to feed. (get this in writing if possible). Otherwise, you may be trespassing.
Feeders can make areas where cats are being fed more attractive by creating feeding stations, planting cat nip, providing toys, etc. This is especially helpful in areas where cats tend to roam the neighborhood. Making feeding areas attractive combined with the use of deterrents can greatly reduce cat problems in the area.
Citizens who Trap, neuter, vaccinate, return:
We also have many citizens who otherwise care for these cats, spending their own time and money to get them vetted, neutered, vaccinated, and returned. They spend endless hours caring for animals that do not belong to them. They do it because the love these animals and want to help their community. Their goal is to help these animals have a reasonably good life without causing problems for others. We all need to appreciate the fact that community cats do not belong to any one person or group of people which is why we call them “community cats.”
Generally speaking, most cats not only do not like water, they have an aversion to getting wet. This is where a scarecrow may be useful. This scarecrow is not made of straw but rather it is a motion-activated sprinkler device that is attached to a regular garden hose. When a cat passes by, it sends a burst of water in the direction of the animal. Typically, cats and other animals will bolt in the other direction. Caution needs to be exercised in the placement of this device as you do not want to accidentally spray passersby on the sidewalk, neighbors, etc.
Another deterrent is a sonic device, also motion activated, that emits a high frequency noise that cats do not like. This helps deter cats and other animals from areas you want to protect, like the top of your car. These devices operate on batteries but some have solar panels that will recharge them.
Digging deterrents come in a variety of inexpensive and easy to use forms ranging from pine cones to lava rocks to stone pavers. Rubber matting that has hard rubber spikes can also be used in garden areas.
This is only intended to be a partial list of options. Many more can be found online. Please be advised that any deterrent used must be humane and cannot cause harm to any animal.
It is a violation of Florida State Statute, 828.13 to trap and remove a cat, leaving it in an area where provisions for care have not been made. As an example, someone who traps a cat, takes him to a field and lets him go, is in violation of this law. This is viewed as animal abandonment! If evidence of this behavior exists, it will be investigated and pursued to the fullest extent of the law. Provisions for care must be made when cats are relocated.
Proven advantages of spay/neuter:
Just by spaying and neutering community cats, many of the nuisance behaviors that are so annoying will be abated. Behaviors such as fighting, spraying, and random litters of kittens showing up under your house will be greatly reduced. It takes about 3 months for changes in behavior after spay/neuter to occur. Please give it a little time as the change is not immediate. Also, cats that are spayed/neutered are less likely to stray far away from their primary food source, reducing interactions with people and the potential for causing problems for citizens.
In summary, we believe that a combination of TNVR/SNVR/deterrents/responsible feeding and cooperation will result in few cats in our community, coming into the shelter, and creating problems for citizens. Please don’t hesitate to call 407-742-8000 should you have questions. Thank you!