Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Debate over growing feral cat population occupies Pinellas commissioners

A feral cat crosses a street near the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs. Animal Services estimates that up to 200,000 feral cats live in Pinellas. That’s double the number cited in 2008-09.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2008)

A feral cat crosses a street near the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs. Animal Services estimates that up to 200,000 feral cats live in Pinellas. That’s double the number cited in 2008-09.

CLEARWATER — More than two years ago, Pinellas County commissioners accepted a task force's recommendations to curb the number of feral cats roaming the community.

The ideas sat. Not the cats.

It's tough to count, but county Animal Services estimates that up to 200,000 feral cats live in Pinellas. That's double the number of so-called unsociable, free-roaming felines cited in 2008-09.

Animal and wildlife advocates pressed commissioners Tuesday to take action to reduce the number of feral cats, though they disagreed on ways to do it.

The commission told Animal Services department staff to work with advocates and come up with suggestions within 90 days. Commissioners were particularly interested in creating a low-cost, high-volume program for spaying and neutering cats.

The original panel recommended more education campaigns and improving spay and neuter services, and running the county's mobile animal unit with nonprofit groups. Instead, budget cuts have reduced Animal Services staff and programs — and have left the mobile unit parked and unused.

Last year, the county took in 10,310 cats, euthanizing 6,190 and adopting out the rest. Of the euthanized cats, about 1,700 were feral — a tiny portion of the total feral population.

"It's not a perception problem, it is a real problem," said Will Davis, interim director of Animal Services.

The original panel also recommended the county avoid involving itself in emotional debate about trap-neuter-release programs for feral cats. Those efforts often win acclaim from cat advocates, because they sterilize the animals to stop them from reproducing but put them back in the community.

Animal advocates pressed commissioners Tuesday and in recent emails to support a similar program in Pinellas.

"Since feral cats are out there in the open, then we need to deal with them humanely," said Debi Butler, a cat owner from Clearwater.

But veterinarians, animal welfare agencies and environmentalists argued against a "TNR" program, suggesting it would likely be ineffective and even dangerous to wildlife.

Davis and veterinary services chief Caroline Thomas said such programs sometimes don't end up reducing the feral population. To have an effect, Thomas estimated that 80 to 90 percent of feral cats would have to be sterilized.

Animal Services, which operates countywide with a staff of 46, has only 15 enforcement officers. A TNR program could divert money from spay and neuter services. Plus, such a program could hinder attempts to help people become better, more attentive pet owners, Thomas said.

Meanwhile, members of local Audubon Society groups said a TNR program would inflict a non-native species on wildlife, a violation of state law. Birds, snakes and mice, among other animals, would be at risk.

"Releasing an apex predator into the environment is not good science," said John Hood, a member of Clearwater Audubon and the Florida Master Naturalist Program.

Instead, Davis and Thomas recommended a more aggressive voluntary program to promote spaying and neutering, but not a mandatory program as some advocates suggested. Pinellas has begun a discounted spay-neuter program for low-income residents. A new group of nonprofits, advocates and county officials has begun meeting, too.

Commissioner Karen Seel also recommended the report address how to pay for expanded programs. One option is charging more for registering unsterilized pets. Besides doing that, Hillsborough County has a voucher program with local vets, which allows low-income residents to pay only $10 per animal for sterilization.

David DeCamp can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at

Debate over growing feral cat population occupies Pinellas commissioners 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 7:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1.   Jake Faria has pitched 6-1/3 innings and has allowed one run in each of this first three starts.
  2. Lightning takes defenseman Cal Foote with top pick in draft

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Former Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote said his son Cal lived in the locker room.

    Cal Foote, second from left, is welcomed to the Lightning by GM Steve Yzerman, far left.
  3. It's Rays' turn to pound Orioles pitching (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG - Ah, the fantastic four.

    The Rays smashed the reeling Orioles 15-5 on Friday, scoring a season-high in runs, to climb four games above .500 for the first time since July 1, 2015.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria scores on a triple by Logan Morrison during the first inning against the Orioles.
  4. Lightning picks defenseman Cal Foote


    Cal Foote is the son of former Avs defenseman Adam Foote.
  5. Kids today: They don't work summer jobs the way they used to


    WASHINGTON — It was at Oregon's Timberline Lodge, later known as a setting in the horror movie The Shining, where Patrick Doyle earned his first real paycheck.

    Teens Ben Testa, from left, Hannah Waring and Abby McDonough, and Wegmeyer Farms owner Tyler Wegmeyer walk the strawberry rows at the Hamilton, Va., farm in late May.