It has been more than a decade since animal activists first asked county officials to loosen rules covering stray animals so something could be done to reduce the feral cat population.
Now, it appears county commissioners will heed their pleas. Commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to hold a public hearing Oct. 21 before relaxing rules that ban animals running free and bar the feeding of wild animals. The new rule would also allow animal welfare groups to get the county's permission to set up pilot programs designed to reduce the feral, or community, cat population. The programs would be directed at trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning the cats to their colonies. It's the best way, some animal welfare activists say, to reduce the population of feral cats.
"I feel very nostalgic about this," County Commissioner Susan Latvala said. One of the first groups who approached her when she was newly elected 14 years ago wanted to establish a TNVR, or trap/neuter/vaccinate/return program. But it never went anywhere. Now it's finally happening, said Latvala, who is leaving the commission because she did not run for re-election.
"I'm very, very proud that we're getting this done as I'm leaving," she said. "I think this is a good thing for us to be doing. Late in coming, but better late than never."
Dan Hester, a former Seminole City Council member who founded Meow Now, a group dedicated to establishing TNVR in Pinellas, spearheaded the latest drive to have officials relax the rules. Hester said the program will provide the cats with things they would not otherwise receive — neutering, vaccinations and veterinary medical care.
The ordinance would require groups that want to establish a program to apply to the county for permission. The program must include criteria such as "maintaining a relationship with a veterinarian" and educating citizens about community cats. The cats would not be allowed to be released within 150 yards of any park, conservation land, beach, wildlife area, day care center or elementary school.
Individual cat caretakers would have to keep the felines on private property, either his or her own, or on other land with the permission of the owner. The caretaker would have to ensure the cats are given adequate food, water and veterinary care.
During the pilot period, Pinellas County Animal Services department staff will maintain data to see how effective the program is. Among those data would be the number of cat nuisance complaints, the number of cats brought into the shelter, and the size and location of colonies.
The ordinance would automatically expire on Jan. 1, 2018, unless the commission decides to continue it.
Contact Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.