Almost a year ago, a group calling itself Meow Now persuaded Pinellas commissioners to relax rules covering stray animals to clear the way for a program to reduce the feral cat population.
It appears a pilot program will go forward but it will likely be without the help of Meow Now.
Instead the county plans to partner with SPCA Tampa Bay and the Humane Society of Pinellas to create a program to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats. Maureen Freaney, head of Pinellas County Animal Services, said the SPCA and Humane Society would have a business plan in front of county commissioners by November. Commissioners would then also have a proposed rule clearing the way for the pilot program.
The ordinance would relax current county rules that ban animals running free and prohibit the feeding of wild animals.
County officials and animal activists estimate there are between 100,000 and 150,000 feral, or community cats, running free in Pinellas. Animal activists have urged county officials to either create or allow the creation of a TNVR program. Such programs, they say, have been effective in other communities at reducing overpopulation.
But county officials refused to consider the idea. Then last September, former Seminole council member Dan Hester, founder of Meow Now, presented the commission with a skeleton business plan and proposal for a one- to two-year pilot program.
But after months of negotiating, Hester and some of his board members (the SPCA and Humane Society are also members of the Meow Now board) say the proposal that's been discussed behind closed doors is unworkable and unacceptable. The proposal is "over-engineered," Hester said Tuesday.
Among their objections: The county would require kittens and "friendly cats" to be taken to Pinellas County Animal Services. But, Hester says, Animal Services does not have room for those animals. Last year, Animal Services euthanized 4,524 cats. Last month alone, Animal Services euthanized another 424 cats.
Hester said he also doubts the SPCA and Humane Society have the experience and capacity "to attack the problem in a meaningful way. If they did, they would already be doing it."
Some commissioner agreed county staff members have been overzealous in their efforts.
"It is over-engineered," Norm Roche said.
Roche said the program should be simple and get started as soon as possible. "It's time for action," he said.
Susan Latvala agreed.
If there's a community group that wants to do TNVR, Latvala said, then "why are we saying no? … If there are citizens that want to spend their time doing this, let them.."
County Administrator Mark Woodard, however, suggested the commission be patient and "indulge" the staff with the time to work with the stakeholders on a plan. Commissioners agreed.