Thursday, May 10, 2012

Feral Cats - More Laws?

I couldn't resist the chance to discuss the recent fluff piece concerning feral cats in the Cape Gazette called Rehoboth resident wants help to solve cat problem - Seeks law to protect roaming felines .  In typical Delaware media form, we get reporting that has some local resident quotes and references to programs in other jurisdictions, but no real substance or research.

What drew my attention most of all was the subtitle about seeking a law to protect feral cats.  Just what Delaware residents need, another crazy law that does not solve the issues for it's residents.  As I've discussed previously, as a result of CAPA, the state no longer has an open access shelter for cats.  So when I read the following opening line of the article, it came as no surprise.
"Constance Smith of Midway Estates outside Rehoboth Beach has been feeding feral cats since 2010, when the number of cats in the neighborhood suddenly mushroomed." - Cape Gazette
Although Kent County SPCA, who handles animal control for all 3 counties in DE, did not limit cat intake by an appointment system in Kent County until 2011, it did limit intake from the other counties of Sussex and New Castle in 2010 when the CAPA legislation was passed.  For those unfamiliar with Delaware, Rehoboth Beach is in Sussex County.  So I have no doubt that the statement above is true regarding the number of cats mushrooming at that point.  As a result of CAPA, residents in all 3 counties are being inundated by cats.  Many of us are seeing more of their bodies on the roadways.  Property owners, that don't want to be caretakers, are having cats dumped onto their properties and in some cases in large numbers.  It's just  a sad situation for both residents and the cats.

So why is this an issue?  There are a number of reasons.
  • First and foremost is the public health danger considering Delaware is in the heart a rabies endemic zone on the East.  Note on the image below from the CDC that Delaware can't even be seen under a couple of those large yellow dots.  

  • The danger to resident's pets is also a concern.  As a dog owner, I've had a couple incidents with my dog almost having altercations with free roaming cats in the neighborhood.   As a responsible pet owner, I get my dog the necessary rabies vaccinations and paid to have my yard fenced to provide my dog with a proper environment.  On one occasion, the cat was up on it's haunches and ready to swat the dog if he came any closer.  Fortunately my dog stayed a couple feet away, but how many dogs end up in that fight and as a result ends up with injuries and being punished by a 45 day quarantine as a result.  While I'm sure the no-kill groups will claim there is that danger with raccoons and other wild animals, but lets be honest, I don't think many of my neighbors are feeding the raccoons and skunks, so the wild animal incidents occur far less often.  
§ 8207. Disposition of animals exposed to rabies.
(a) If the owner of a dog, cat or ferret which is exposed to an animal suspected or known to be rabid can provide proof of a currently valid rabies vaccination, that dog, cat or ferret shall be revaccinated immediately and quarantined for 45 days.
  • And to the No-Kill Delaware Facebook frequent poster that placed the following quote on a national no-kill page, the following statement was entirely incorrect. -  "In all of my years I have never heard of a feral cat colony spreading disease. The couple of rabies cases I have heard of in this state involved a raccoon and a fox. A lot of these "facts" I believe originate from theories that some person has written down with no facts to back them up yet somehow they become hard evidence."
The fact is, cats made up nearly half of the animals that tested positive in 2010 for rabies according to CDC statistics for Delaware, so there is hard evidence contrary to her comment, but it takes a few minutes and some additional effort to go out an find the "facts".
2002- All Animals 55 - Cats 1 - Cat Percentage 2%
2003- All Animals 65 - Cats 6 - Cat Percentage 9%
2004- All Animals 59 - Cats 9 - Cat Percentage 15%
2005- All Animals 38 - Cats 1 - Cat Percentage 3%
2006- All Animals 24 - Cats 3 - Cat Percentage 13%
2007- All Animals 11 - Cats 3 - Cat Percentage 27%
2008- All Animals 21 - Cats 6 - Cat Percentage 29%
2009- All Animals 15 - Cats 4 - Cat Percentage 27%
2010- All Animals 11 - Cats 5 - Cat Percentage 45%
So taking that stray kitten home to "play with your child" is not something I would recommend to a responsible parent.
  • Besides the rabies concerns, residents that are having cats dumped onto their properties and are burdened with the expenses of getting the cats spayed and neutered.  That's their only alternative to not let the situation get even more out of hand, since there are no shelters to take them in.  So not only will CAPA result in higher costs to taxpayers for county dog control costs, some residents will have an additional tax placed on them to deal with the cats that are dumped onto their properties, and in many cases they will be low income rural residents.  The buck has been passed from the shelters to the unlucky resident that has to deal with these drop-offs.
  • In more densely populated areas, a resident taking on a colony impacts their neighbors.  Whether it be issues of ruining of landscaping, cats tearing up screens to try and get to another residents indoor cats, or cats tearing up insulation under a home trying to find a warm place to sleep, neighbors have to be considered in urban and suburban locations.  Using the term "community cats" doesn't it make it so.  The amount of cats in a densely populated area needs to be limited to ensure neighbors are not impacted.  And these colonies have to be re-vaccinated on a regular basis to ensure the safety of the children in these neighborhoods.

A Law?

While I was glad to see that Governor Markell's office stated "that the governor is not pursuing legislation to protect cats this year", it does concern me that it says "this year".

The article also mentioned the following:
South Carolina law 
The Charleston Animal Society and the ASPCA in South Carolina partnered with legislators there to protect free-roaming cats. The legislation allowed the state to trap-neuter-return thousands of feral cats, paid for through the state budget. 
According to the program website, “One of the most important lessons learned is that most citizens want to help sustain free-roaming cats, but don't want to self-identify as the custodian of the cats, rather treating them as community cats.”  -  Cape Gazette
I thought it was worthwhile to include the following links for those that read the article above and wanted more information.

What stands out about the above program, is the fact that, unlike in Delaware where the no-kill groups use political influence to get at taxpayer funds, the Charleston program was about the dirty word that our no-kill movement doesn't believe in - collaboration to obtain grant funds.  In Charleston, yes there were laws passed, but lets be honest, there have been no attempts at the kind of collaboration that would be necessary to get collaborative funding from an organization like Charleston did with the ASPCA, so what would a law accomplish?  Their laws established microchip identification, which the no-kill community has fought against here for as long as I can remember here.  The Charleston program appears to be more successful than most because it took a more balance approach to the issue as well.  They didn't stop taking cats overnight as happened in Delaware.  In fact the ASPCA sheet notes:
"some concerns have been observed in communities attempting to replicate the program "overnight." - ASPCA
Since it began over 4,836 feral cats have been returned to the field instead of being euthanized.  Saving these cats has been the major factor for the increase in the live release rate (the number of animals who come into county shelters and leave alive) in Charleston County from 37% to 65% in three years.

So I find it amusing that this idea is even being discussed here in Delaware by the Cape Gazette.  The lack of collaboration, the lack of effort for collaborative grant funding, the lack of caretaker accepting responsibility for their colonies with microchip identification, and the lack of patience to have a balanced approach which means a certain amount of cats would need to continue to be euthanized, are some of the many reasons this program would not be successful here.  And the most unfortunate part about it is that cats and residents will continue to suffer as a result.