Dan Hester, a well-known local animal activist and member of the MEOW Now board of directors, tells Pinellas County Commissioners Oct. 21 why he supports changes to the countywide tethering rules.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved changes to its animal services code Oct. 21 that will allow the start of a pilot program to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return of “community cats.”
Animal rights activists have lobbied the commission for years to assist in developing a program for humanely taking care of free-roaming and feral cats in the county. Too many cats are being euthanized, the activists complained. They provided examples where TNVR programs had proven successful.
Animal Services finally came up with a plan that allowed the county to maintain its standards for public safety and health, as well as take into account the welfare of the animals.
Code changes will allow organizations interested in implementing a TNVR program to help control and reduce feral and free-roaming cat populations in Pinellas while educating the public on best practices to management cat colonies.
County staff is working with the board of MEOW Now, the short name for Managing and Ending Overpopulation Wisely, which is comprised of citizen advocates and representatives from SPCA Tampa Bay and Humane Society of Pinellas.
The code changes are temporary and set to expire on Jan. 1, 2018 unless the commission intervenes.
Staff will measure the success of the pilot program by using a set list of criteria. Animal Services will track the number of cat nuisance complaints and cat intake statistics. The Health Department will record cat bites and MEOW Now will report on number of colony and community cats in targeted areas that are reduced/stabilized.
Organizations must apply for approval before beginning at TNVR program.
Cathy Unruh, chairwoman of the MEOW Now board, told commissioners that TNVR works and would eventually eliminate free-roaming cats. She said TNVR is most effective when accompanied by caregivers,
Per code, community cat locations must be maintained on private property belonging to the caregiver or, with permission, to another landowner. Cats cannot be released within 150 yards of a park, conservation land, beach, wildlife area, daycare center or elementary school.
Caregivers are responsible to provide necessities, food, clean water and medical care. They cannot allow cats under their car to suffer by neglect or cruelty.
Unruh said regular feeding reduced the need for the cats to hunt and roam.
“They stay close to where they're being fed,” she said. “Intakes decline and euthanasia drops. Nuisance behavior is diminished.”
MEOW Now is a 501 (c) 3 organization. Unruh said donations are appreciated. More information on TNVR is available at meownowfl.org.
Stricter tethering rules
Efforts to regulate tethering of animals in the county started five years ago when the city of Seminole passed an anti-tethering ordinance, said former Seminole Councilman Dan Hester.
“It was the strictest in the state,” he said.
Hester is an advocate of strict tethering laws and a member of the MEOW Now board of directors. He approves of the change to ban unattended tethering approved Oct. 21.
“It is a very strong ordinance and has a good bite to it,” he said.
Studies have indicated that dogs left tethered and unattended become less socialized and more aggressive. They also have an increased chance of biting, according to a report from Animal Services Director Maureen Freaney.
She said unattended tethering also leads to inhumane conditions for the animal. Other counties with ordinances that prohibit unattended tethering are Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Lee, Collier, Broward, Hillsborough, Pasco, Sarasota, Manatee, Lake, Duval and Okaloosa.
The amendment is scheduled to become effective May 1, 2015 to allow time to inform and educate the public.
The amended ordinance includes cats and it prohibits unattended tethering of dogs and cats countywide.
Per the amended code, dogs and cats must be tethered in a location where the owner can see them and the owner must be outside with the animal while it is being tethered. The owner cannot use choke, pinch, prong style collars and collars must fit properly. If there are multiple dogs or cats, they must be tethered separately.
County Administrator Mark Woodard said a public information campaign would begin soon to make the public aware of the new requirements.
Staff provided a draft copy of a brochure titled, “Break the Chain. Don't tether your dog.” The brochure includes a phone number to report people who tether their animals for long periods. Code enforcement officers will visit to educate the owner. Depending on the circumstances, code enforcement officers could issue a formal warning or citation. Fines can be as high as $500.
Tethering is dangerous for the animal. Animals can become entangled and are at risk of choking. Dogs left outside are prey to insects, teasing by children and adults, and attacks by other animals. Dogs left alone for long periods become unhappy, anxious and aggressive to humans and other animals, according to information in the draft brochure.
“Many 'dangerous dogs' were made that way by the treatment from their owners … maybe without the owner even realizing it.”