Pinellas commissioners are taking a prudent approach toward reducing the number of stray cats and dogs. They agreed last week to charge more for licenses for unsterilized pets, and to require sterlization of dogs and cats that are found roaming loose more than once.
There is plenty of work to do. In 2012 Pinellas County animal shelters took in 10,119 dogs and 14,663 cats. New homes were found for 4,186 dogs and 5,728, but 2,645 dogs and 6,969 cats were euthanized. The new rules, which are being drafted and will have to be approved by the commission, are reasonably aimed at requiring pet owners to be responsible and to reduce the population of dogs and cats running free.
A more controversial approach — a trap, neuter, vaccinate and release program to deal with feral cats that is supported by several animal rights groups — needs more study. The effectiveness of these programs is debatable, and a test program might be useful. But Pinellas County must first amend existing ordinances that ban cats and dogs from running loose or being fed. There are concerns that released feral cats still pose health and safety issues.
The ultimate goal of humane animal control efforts should be just that, controlling the size of the county's stray animal populations and protecting public safety.