The scariest feral cat in a trap doesn't get him down, and neither did the failed batteries in the room mic when Peter Wolf of the great blog Vox Felina and, more recently, Best Friends Animal Society, talked about community cat advocacy at the 2013 No Kill Conference in Washington DC.
What follows is a real-time summary of Peter's presentation. If something is in quotes, he said it; otherwise, it's a paraphrase.
How does your community handle community cats? What are the relevant ordincances? How do those things impact our behavior as advocates, and what do we do about it?
And the gray area: What won't we get caught doing?
Of course, it depends on where you are. Some communities are more or less permissive or restrictive. So your first step is identifying where on the spectrum your community lies.
He used several different communities to walk the audience through how that process works.
For example, how do they define "owner" when it comes to cat? Maricopa, AZ, defines it as six days of "maintaining" the animal -- does that include feeding? Do you just have to skip a day every week and start the clock over?
In some communities (he uses example of Phoenix which is not at all restrictive), it's a mistake to try to change ordinances. If you can do what you need to do within the existing regulatory and enforcement environment, you are better off leaving it alone. You could open it up and end up stirring up opposition and getting worse regulations and more enforcement.
In Akron, Ohio, cats are specifically mentioned as not being allowed to "run at large" off their owners' property.
What does that mean for a cat without owner? Well, in Akron, the law says it's the "duty" of the City Animal Control Wardens to apprehend animals, specifically including cats, who are "at large." Since 2003 in Akrgon, "free-roaming cats are simply not permitted."
What does enforcement look like?
He took some time to discuss the community cats online panel I moderated for Maddie's Fund earlier in the week, then introduced what's going on in Jacksonville, Florida, which was discussed during that panel.
He quotes the Jacksonville ordinance, which, for example, discusses managed cat colonies but doesn't have language requiring all community cats be in a managed colony. But they do set guidelines for such colonies when they are in place.
The ordinance says "sterilized, vaccinated, ear-tipped community cats are exempt from licensing, stray, at-large and possibly other provisions of this ordinance that apply to owned animals." Why does this matter?
Too often, opponents of TNR describe it as "abandonment." If you keep using the language (think "death panels"), people start to question. Hmmm, maybe this isn't good for cats after all. It's like anti-cat advocates trying to re-brand TNR as "trap, neuter, abandon."
Ordinance also says there is no stray holding period for feral animals, but EXCLUDES those cats that qualify "for a community cat management program established by the City." Doesn't micromanage that in the ordinance.
Wherever you live, whether a bad or great ordinance, never fail to look at what's REALLY happening. Are bad provisions being enforced? Are good ordinances being honored? Example Prince George's County, MD, where some fo the language sounds good, but what's really happening is not so good. He also reviewed a proposal that was just amazingly bad for cats and clueless.
Then he said something to the effect that if you think THAT was bad, wait til you see what was proposed in Hillsborough County, Florida, this year.
Some veterinarians in that county are fighting TNR fiercely -- it's cruelty, it's abandonment, it's rabies, it's toxo -- and since people think they are there to help animals, that "DVM" gives a lot of crediblity.
The proposal was called AWAKE -- "Animal welfare, Adoption, Kids and Education" -- and was proposed by the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation.
Under proposal, there would be no new colonies allowed. Existing colonies have to test, have to keep rabies "current," each colony and cat has to be registered, have to be treated ANNUALLY for internal parasites!
None of this is required for PET cats, "but the ones we can't touch, we have to do it."
Only permitted a mile and a half from various business including food stores, schools, etc. "You map it out, there's nothing left of Hillsborough County."
Newcomers would have had to be removed.
Even though proposals like this would essentially eliminate the lifesaving their supposedly intended to promote, they often sound very reasonable to lawmakers and are promoted as GOOD for the community, for caretakers, and for cats!
Looked great to the press, too.
In Salt Lake City, they found that designated caretaker requirements were "almost like a deterrent" and diverted resources from spay/neuter.
So, don't unowned free-romaing cats NEED designated caretakers?
First, most already have someone caring for them. Even if we don't know who they are.
Second, most of these cats are doing well, healthy, thriving. Data from Jon Cicirelli in San Jose, some studies by Dr. Julie Levy.
Third, concern over reuniting lost pets with their owners? What if we TNR an owned cat? "As long as cats are returned to their original location, their chances of being reunited are surprisingly good."
"In one study, lost cats are more than 13 times more likely to be reunited with their owners if there is no shelter intervention." About two-thirds of cats just come back one day.
None of this is to say we don't want cats to have caretakers, Peter said. And in fact, they probably do. There are benefits to the cats and the caretakers. Guidelines, networks, financial assistance.
Registered COLONIES, however, not a good idea. The wrong people shouldn't know where the cats are. Can also generate bad media. If licensed/registered, subject to public records laws.
Requiring caretakers to do TNR reduces likelihood of positive outcome.
- "They don't need us." (ie, animal control to intervene) -Jon Cicirelli
- TNR oridinances: "Less can sometimes be more." -Alley Cat Allies
- "Support existing caretakers and recruit more." -Peter Wolf