To the editor:
A few weeks ago, an article appeared in the another loal publication about TNR/euthanasia of stray and feral cats. Several people have asked me about TNR on Pine Island. I'm going into my third year of trap, neuter and release efforts. To date, I have taken care of 357 cats on Pine Island. Neutering and spaying cats offers many benefits; one, female cats make a lot of noise when they are in heat; two, male cats fight each other over territory and spray urine to mark territories as their own; males cats will also fight over fertile female cats. Obviously, neutering and spaying means no more kittens, so TNR is the most effective way to control the breeding process. But euthanizing colonies creates a vacuum that will soon be filled with a new group of cats. At one time, we had two colonies on the island, with a total of 14. I cared for nine of those, but all of the cats were cared for very well. The sad thing, however, is that these 14 cats were not feral. They were housecats, dumped by irresponsible people. I could not find homes for them, so feeding stations were set up. But coyotes killed all 14 cats. After that, I realized that creating outside colonies for homeless cats was not an option. My other option was to find individuals in need of barn cats or grove cats, where they could find shelter off the ground or inside shelter, to protect themselves from coyotes. Pine Island's animal shelter has taken some homeless cats. One mother cat and her kittens were given a home on a large mango farm, to control the rat population. Another mom cat and her litter reside on a livestock farm for the same reason. Then we have concerned citizens who feed strays and call me. The next step is to get the cats neutered and spayed, so I take the cats to the clinic where they are tested for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. If a cat tests positively for either of these diseases, they are humanely euthanized. Healthy cats always receive necessary shots as well as being spayed or neutered. Some of those homeless cats are then adopted. They might become indoor-only pets or they live in area barns, helping to control rodent problems.
The cats on the island are well cared for and in return, they provide a tremendous community service. Because we are an agricultural island, we do not have horrendous rodent problems because of the cats. We often hear people complain that cats attack birds. But have you ever watched the cats around Winn-Dixie? They actually watch birds eat their food but never make a move to stop them! That's not to say, of course, that some cats do hunt birds, but eagles, owls and hawks also target birds.
How about cattle birds? They attack the young in nests on the ground. And yes, snakes and raccoons also raid the eggs found in ground nesting sites. It has been proven that, given a choice, a cat will go after a rodent before a bird.
All in all, the TNR program is working. We see this in the decline of new feline births each year. As long as the community supports the TNR program, I will continue. But I can't continue without community support and help to find living arrangements for homeless cats. If you are in need of barn cats or grove cats, please contact me so I can add you to my list. When I have cats available for homes, I will give you a call. If you have cats but need spay and neutering, please call on me. If you have recently lost a pet or you would like to give a safe home to a stray, we want to help with that, too.
Thank you to everyone for all that you have done to help these poor, confused, abandoned animals. All of these domestic cats would eventually become feral if they weren't cared about. You see, this is not actually a cat problem at all. It is a people problem. People need to take responsibility for their pets rather than expecting others to care for their cats after they dump them. We also have a few island residents who take it upon themselves to trap any cat that wanders onto their property. Once the cat is captured, they often drive several miles away to dump the cat away from its home area. That action results in a lost, frightened, confused and hungry cat becoming wary of humans and turning into an angry feral cat. If the cat is not yet neutered or spayed, the breeding problem begins all over again, and this was a choice of a human, not a cat. Individuals who handle cats in this manner are not helping resolve the breeding issue, instead, they are working against those of us who are committed to the TNR program. In my opinion, if you don't want animals wandering onto your property, you shouldn't live on the island. Move to a hi-rise in the city, where you are surrounded by concrete instead of wildlife!
Together, as a community, we can and will clean up our island. It's a win-win situation for residents and cats, too. Pine Island, as a community, is known for being the best when it comes to solving problems. I'm very proud to say I live here.