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Attention turns to strays

Tarpon Springs looks at neuter, release programs.

By ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published February 1, 2008

A stray cat crosses a street Thursday near the Sponge Docks. City commissioners are pursuing a spay and release program.
[Douglas R. Clifford | Times]
[Douglas R. Clifford | Times]
Some say captured strays should not be released.

TARPON SPRINGS - City Commissioner Robin Saenger stepped outside her house recently to find an abandoned kitten lying in the grass, covered in red ants.

Tarpon Springs resident Nancy Dively has seen other stray kittens bake to death in the sun or get smashed by motorists.

"Kittens are having kittens!" Dively said, adding that many of the offspring "die slow, horrible deaths."

At Tuesday's meeting, city commissioners voted to begin addressing Pinellas County's feral cat problem by advocating for a "trap, neuter and release" option, a practice that is not supported by county ordinances.

Tarpon Springs commissioners are drafting a letter to the County Commission to recommend the change.

While it's unclear whether Tarpon Springs has more stray cats than other parts of the county, officials and residents say it's time to take action.

"It's just sad," Saenger said. Without change, "the problem will just get more and more horrible," she said.

The commission's decision comes after 196 cats were removed from a Tarpon Springs house in December. The homeowners were feeding strays, and when neighbors complained, they started keeping the cats indoors.

Saenger said the city's decision to address the feral cat problem has "been on the back burner for a long time" and was not directly spurred by the recent incident.

"The feral cat situation has been somewhat ignored," said Rick Chaboudy, director of the Suncoast Animal League and former executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas. "It has gotten to the point where it's unmanageable."

But trap, neuter and release programs have plenty of critics.

"We're against it," said Welch Agnew, assistant director of veterinary services for Pinellas Animal Services.

Cats are not native to the Florida ecosystem and thus don't belong in it, he said. Trapping, neutering and then releasing them back into the environment hurts other species they hunt, such as birds.

Moreover, the trap, neuter and release critics say it doesn't create a good life for the cats.

"They're exposed to diseases, predators," Agnew said. "They get run over by cars."

Agnew said the cats should be caught and, if possible, put up for adoption. If they're not adoptable, they should be euthanized, he said.

But Saenger said residents don't want to see "mass euthanasia" happen.

Many cat lovers throughout the city regularly feed colonies and sometimes even take feral cats to the veterinarian, she said.

Though the cats are wild, "people bond with them," Chaboudy said.

Which is why it makes sense to institute a trap, neuter and release program because you can begin to control the population growth, he said.

"By standing still," he said, "we're really falling behind."

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay supports neutering and releasing cats and has started a program in Hillsborough County. Chaboudy said the program hasn't been running long enough to show a substantial reduction in cats, but there hasn't been a significant increase either.

Agnew countered that he has never seen a scientific study proving the efficiency of such a program in controlling cat population growth.

But that doesn't mean Pinellas shouldn't at least give it a try, local cat lovers say.

"People say the cats don't belong outside," Dively said. "But the reality is, they're out there anyway."

Elena Lesley can be reached at or 727 445-4167.

[Last modified January 31, 2008, 22:12:01]

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