Pinellas County asks residents for feedback on proposed feral cat program

Pinellas County Animal Services is considering a new “return-to-field” program that would make it legal for cats to live outside and roam freely. Under the new program, stray cats would be sterilized, ear tipped, vaccinated and returned to the location where they were found or trapped.

 

Pinellas County’s Animal Services is considering a new “return-to-field program” to help reduce the feral cat population. Currently cats are not allowed to live outside or roam freely.

Under the proposed return-to-field program, strays brought into the animal shelter that are healthy but too feral for adoption would be sterilized, ear tipped, vaccinated and returned to their original location to live as community cats.

The premise is that a healthy group of sterilized community cats will prevent unsterilized feral cats from moving into an area and reproducing, slowing the growth of the feral cat population.

The county scheduled public input meetings on Aug. 20, Sept. 3 and 5 to communicate the proposed program and get feedback. However, due to Hurricane Dorian, the Sept. 3 meeting was canceled. It has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2-4 p.m., at Pinellas County Extension Magnolia Room, 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo. The Sept. 5 meeting is from 6-8 p.m. at St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs Campus, Room LY156, 600 E. Klosterman Road in Tarpon Springs.

Residents also can provide feedback via a short online survey at www.pinellascounty.org/catsurvey.

Based on the county’s goals and residents’ feedback, the county’s current outdoor pet cat policy will remain unchanged and pet cats will not allowed be allowed live outside.

To try to control the feral cat population, Pinellas currently uses a Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release program.

The program is administered by Meow Now, which is the only organization in the county that provides Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release program.

According to information on the nonprofit group’s website, https://www.meownowfl.org, estimates show there are over 160,000 free-roaming cats in Pinellas. TNVR is recognized as an effective way to manage these cat populations. Cats are sterilized, vaccinated, ear tipped and returned to their outdoor homes, called “colonies,” where a caregiver provides food, water, and other care as needed.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, only about 2% of community cats in the United States are spayed or neutered and these unsterilized cats account for about 80% of kittens born each year, making them the biggest source of cat overpopulation in the United States,.

A “return-to-field” policy (TNVR), which the county is considering, is an effective way to control and decrease feral cat colonies over time through sterilization, according to a press release. The program builds on the county’s current community cat policy, which allows residents to care for free-roaming cats that are sterilized, ear tipped and vaccinated.

The county has a link to answers to several frequently asked questions, such as what is a community cat. The answer: A community cat is any feral or free-roaming cat that is cared for by one or more individual caregivers, if the cat is sterilized, up to date on rabies vaccination, and distinguished from other cats by being ear-tipped.

To read additional questions and answers, visit www.pinellascounty.org/catfaq.

For information on how to adopt, donate or volunteer, join Pinellas County Animal Services on Facebook. To learn more about the shelter, visit www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices or call 727-582-2600.