By Erika Webb
Cats and dogs reigned at the regular meeting of the DeLand City Commission May 20. Commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance allowing cat colonies to exist in the city, on several conditions.
First, individuals who want to care for a group, or groups, of cats are required to register with the DeLand Police Department to be designated cat colony caregivers.
The solution to an increasingly overwhelming problem was a long time coming, according to assistant city manager Dale Arrington, who thoroughly researched methods employed by animal groups, individuals and other cities.
"The program that is reported here tonight brings the best uses and practices that can be found in Volusia County as well as the state of Florida and puts them into use here in DeLand," Ms. Arrington said.
"Simply stated, this ordinance allows free roaming cats," she added.
But, she said, they won't be abandoned or "out there all on their own."
Caregivers must feed the colony daily, keeping the property free of debris and litter.
"You don't get any time off for Christmas or a holiday," Ms. Arrington said.
All adult cats brought into the colony must be spayed and neutered. Cats over eight weeks of age must be sterilized before reaching 16 weeks of age. Kittens are to be removed from the colony at eight weeks of age for domestication and placement. All sterilized and rabies-vaccinated felines will have their ears "tipped" by a licensed veterinarian.
Sick or injured cats must be removed by caregivers for immediate veterinary care or humane euthanasia. The designated cat colony caregiver will be required to maintain proof of sterilization as well as vaccination and medical records for all cats. Those records must be provided to the DeLand Police Department, Animal Control Section upon request. The cat colony "headquarters" must also be reported to the DPD.
With the adoption of the ordinance, Ms. Arrington said the city's sole animal control officer Gary Thomas will have an easier job to perform.
"All of our laws will be lined up and we won't be speaking out of both sides of our mouth," she said.
By legalizing cat colonies, Ms. Arrington said the city will be able to work hand in hand with the cat colony caregivers already "out there" and that additional volunteers may join the effort.
"We hope to have a meeting, an open meeting with all the cat colony caregivers in the city of DeLand to go over the rules, see how we can implement them and what more needs to be done," Ms. Arrington said.
The overall goal, she added, is to reduce the number of free roaming cats in the area.
Pat Mihalic with Concerned Citizens for Animal Welfare explained how the TNR ordinance has done just that in Port Orange where the group has registered 14 colonies since May 2012.
"We've done 214 cats," Ms. Mihalic said. "Of those 214 cats, 118 of them were females. Those females, just those females and not their offspring, in a year's time would have produced 1,400 kittens. Their babies can reproduce and be bred at four months so at six months they can have kittens. So, you have kittens having kittens."
She said the practice of trapping and euthanizing animals has proven to be costly for government and taxpayers, so much so Gov. Rick Scott recently signed into law a bill supporting pound and shelter transparency -- amended to also endorse "Trap Neuter Return."
Commissioner Vonzelle Johnson voted against the ordinance.
He expressed concerns about nuisance cats roaming neighborhoods, going into the yards of residents. He said he didn't feel the proposed plan was comprehensive enough to ensure containment of the cats in the colonies.
"It has nothing to do with my feelings toward animals," Commissioner Johnson said.
"Under this ordinance you're exempted from the standard nuisance provisions," Ms. Arrington said.
She said wandering cats would not be considered "nuisance" animals under this program.
New Smyrna Beach resident Bob Belt said he's been practicing TNR for about 20 years.
"All over the country it's the only proven solution to the overpopulation of free roaming cats," Mr. Belt said.
He said once cats are sterilized the nuisance behaviors are eliminated.
"Once the cats are spayed and neutered they don't spray anymore, they don't mate anymore, of course, they don't fight anymore," Mr. Belt explained.
Commissioner Phil Martin said statistics and return on investment prove TNR works.
"Take a visit to your nearest inhumane society," he said. "And see barrels overflowing with euthanized cats. That will change your heart."
In a unanimous vote, the commission authorized staff to request bids for renovations to a city-owned building near the airport to house the Second Chance Facility which temporarily shelters cats and dogs collected by the city's animal control officer.
"The current facility is housed in a rented warehouse space that wasn't designed for animal care," city staff reported.
Estimates for construction of a new facility were around $250,000.
"The (city-owned) building can be repurposed by adding floor drains, additional air conditioners and proper kennels for an estimated cost of $70,000-$90,000," according to the staff request for commission action.
The Second Chance Facility has been operating since July 2009. It allows the opportunity for animals to be adopted through various rescue groups with which the city has partnered.
Since the program's inception the city has successfully placed 637 animals, and 70 animals have been returned to their owners, according to the city.
"It's a viable program but needs additional personnel resources and an improved facility in order to maintain its successful outcomes," staff reported.