Lawsuit filed against Brevard County
By Chris Fish
BREVARD - A national animal rights organization announced last week its support of a lawsuit against the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners for illegally suspending parts of a 13-year-old ordinance for feral cat colonies.
Alley Cat Allies, a national organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats, said the Board of Commissioners violated both state and local law during a May 15 public hearing when its members suspended a registration process for feral cat colonies - a key element of the Trap-Neuter-Return process.
The suit was filed on behalf of Brevard County resident Karen Parsons, who, on May 22, was refused legal registration of a feral cat colony near her home in Indian Harbour Beach, said Barbara Schmitz, director of advocacy for Alley Cat Allies.
Soon after being denied this registration, Ms. Parsons discovered city workers - instructed by Brevard County Animal Control - in her backyard trapping the animals and was told they would be taken to a local shelter to be euthanized.
"(The commission had) a lack of proper notice and no vote (for the restriction)," Ms. Schmitz said. "We feel as if the commission is moving in the wrong direction."
With the hold on the registration process, feral cat colony owners argue the county endangers more feral cats than it helps.
"The reason they are killing so many cats is because they have banned registration for cat colonies for the past two months," said Katherine McCoy, an owner of another feral cat colony in Brevard County. "We aren't doing what we do on the taxpayer's dime. We trap, neuter and return (these cats)."
West Melbourne resident Marjorie Moe has maintained a legal feral cat colony in an abandoned field across from her home for several years. She, too, completed the TNR registration process through the county.
"I'm not doing this because I love sitting in a field," Ms. Moe said. "I have family up north. I would like to just pick up and go, but I have to make arrangements for someone to feed these animals. This is not something I would choose to do."
Distraught by a previous experience with Brevard County Animal Control, Ms. Moe registered for a cat colony in an attempt to save the feral cats from euthanasia.
"I had so many cats in my backyard, I felt I had no choice but to call Animal Control," she said. "That was the worst decision I had ever made. They came in and trapped them. It haunts me to this day. I can still see their scared little faces."
Ms. Moe said she was told the feral cats were euthanized because they were considered "unadoptable."
Stray cats differ from feral cats in that they are tame, friendly and can be adopted into homes. Feral cats, however, are not tame, they cannot be socialized, they cannot be pets and they are not adoptable.
Ms. McCoy said colonies offer an affordable and humane solution, known as TNR, in which the owner humanely traps the cats in a colony, then takes them to a local organization or clinics to vaccinate and spay or neuter the animals, so they can't reproduce. Then, they are returned to the colony.
Keeping with current regulations, the cats are returned with their ears tipped, indicating they belong in a colony. "Eartipping" involves painlessly removing a quarter-inch off the top of a feral cat's left ear, while the cat is anesthetized for spay/neutering.
Organizations such as the Central Brevard Humane Society will not take in cats that belong to a registered colony, Ms. Moe said.
Ms. McCoy said Animal Control's way of capturing and euthanizing the feral cats is costly to the taxpayer.
"Brevard Animal Control shows around 5,000 cats are killed in Brevard County each year, costing about $150 per cat," she said.
But Robert Brown, captain of enforcement for Brevard County Animal Control, said he believed this figure to be too high.
"Our budget is roughly $3,000,000 a year," he said. "I can't currently give a number as to how much we are spending, that is being examined at the moment, but that number seems to be a bit exaggerated. Plenty of cats are brought in by residents on their own time."
Like Ms. Moe, Ms. McCoy describes owning a cat colony as a civic duty.
"This is something I think our elected officials don't fully understand. This is not a hobby," Ms. McCoy said. "We are taking care of a problem that is right in our neighborhood. We are taking care of the animals until they die naturally. We spay and neuter them and make sure they're not carrying diseases."
Ms. Moe said she thinks TNR works effectively in decreasing the number of feral cats, as opposed to euthanizing.
"I used to have (a ton) of cats, but after I started to spay and neuter my cats, I now only have five in my backyard," she said. "I don't understand how the powers at be think euthanizing is going to work because they would have to (euthanize) every last cat for it to work. Cats will still reproduce (if they are not spayed or neutered)."
Ms. McCoy said myths about feral cats hurt the chances for more cat colonies, such as fears of an individual extracting toxoplasmosis, one of the most common parasitic diseases that is found in pets, as well as humans, and rabies from the animals.
"You get toxoplasmosis by eating cat feces. If you lick your feet (after stepping in cat feces), maybe you will get it," she said. "Rabies statistics show four cats in Brevard County with rabies in the last 10 years versus 26 rabid raccoons. Of those four cats, one was a pet."
Mr. Brown said the idea of TNR sounds positive, but it isn't a practical solution.
"I believe it would work in a vacuum or a small area like an island," he said. "It has been our experience that colonies do the opposite (of becoming smaller). It's not the caregiver's fault. It's just new cats join in each colony."
Despite the laws working against her cause, Ms. McCoy remains firm in her beliefs.
"This isn't a hobby. These animals were abandoned. In Palm Bay, one out of four houses suffer from foreclosure, which means abandoned animals," she said. "And, if you find these abandoned cats, you have to wonder what the best thing to do is? Should I take them to a kill shelter? They're not adoptable. They are going to be put to sleep, and that is going to cost taxpayers money."
As of press time, the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to discuss the issue during its regular commission meeting on July 24.
"Our goal (in supporting this issue), is to get the commission to roll back its moratorium on the registration of cat colonies and leave the existing ordinance as is," Ms. Schmitz said.