The Animal Services Subcommittee tasked with reviewing and revising the animal ordinances for Richmond County is discussing several issues that will improve the welfare of companion animals. But there is one issue on the table – the fate of community cats – that is being decided by a group of people that include few who even like cats.
ONE OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE’S concerns is about the spread of diseases such as rabies, even though documented studies show there has not been a proven case of cat-transmitted-to-human rabies in four decades. Dogs actually are more likely to get rabies because they chase wild animals such as raccoons, while cats merely watch them.
PETA is the subcommittee’s resource of choice, though animal welfare is not PETA’s priority. There is documentation that shows rabies vaccines last three to seven years, which is the average lifespan of feral cats. Cats can reproduce starting at the age of 4 months, and can have up to three litters per year.
The only proven method of stopping uncontrolled breeding is sterilization. Old policies of “catch and kill” still in effect in Richmond County have not worked and will not work. Local agencies do not have the resources to catch and kill all the cats. Even if they could, most people would prefer a nonlethal approach.
Trap-neuter-return programs are the only effective way to stop reproduction and the spread of disease. Walt Disney World and Disneyland have two of the largest cat colonies in the country. Aiken has just implemented TNR. In Georgia, TNR programs are working in DeKalb, Walton, Barrow, Newton, Rockdale and Dawson counties; and in the cities of Athens, Madison, Vinings, Marietta, Pooler, Columbus, Macon, Tybee Island and Savannah. TNR programs also are in place in Charleston, Greer, Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina; Asheville, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and in many more communities across the country.
Most people are compassionate by nature, and will feed strays, even at personal risk, since there are laws against this. Former Augusta Commissioner Corey Johnson even said in an open meeting that he feeds stray cats. It makes us feel good to help animals in need, and laws should not penalize people for kindness. Once people realize that the cats’ breeding is getting out of control, they reach out for help to sterilize the cats, adamantly against sending them to animal control to be killed.
The costs of spaying or neutering, rabies vaccines, wellness checks and ear tippings are borne by the individual, a business owner or an animal welfare organization. There is no cost to the county, but there are cost savings. The average cost to trap, house, feed, destroy and discard feral cats is $100 per cat.
THE BEHAVIORS THAT people find offensive – yowling at night, fighting and spraying – are related to seeking, finding and fighting for mates. Once sterilized, these behaviors disappear. If a person doesn’t like cats in his yard, the first thing to do is block areas that provide shelter, then completely secure trash. If cats still are around, perhaps a conversation with family members is in order, as someone may be feeding or socializing with the cats. There also are many humane deterrents in stores and online.
Properly managed TNR programs do not create cat overpopulation – the cats already are here. Our community must choose between progress, which results in reduced cat populations and reduced health risks; or an unmanaged, ever-growing problem. These nonlethal programs can mobilize an army of compassionate, dedicated people who care about the cats, wildlife and their communities.
Returns are plentiful – fewer community cats; lower cat intake and euthanasia rates; municipal cost savings; greater volunteer participation; better use of limited shelter space and resources; and increased goodwill toward shelters.
Doing nothing or repeating failed approaches are no longer options. Proactive, effective approaches exist and need to be fully embraced and implemented if we are to have a lasting impact. Augusta-Richmond County can lead the way and help neighboring communities recognize the need for improved ordinances and lifesaving programs. We recommend simple exemptions for community cats that are, or will be, cared for within a TNR program, in places where people give their permission for their care.
Please contact our new mayor and your commissioners, and tell them you are for a nonlethal TNR program for community cats, to stop uncontrolled breeding and the risk of the spread of rabies. Even though TNR is the only effective way to reduce cat populations, many of the people who make the decisions about this issue are not in support of TNR. Our elected officials are supposed to represent the citizens of Richmond County, and be good stewards of the tax dollars we pay for the operation and salaries of county agencies and their employees.
THE INTERNATIONAL City/County Management Association supports TNR, as does That’s What Friends Are For Inc., Kitty Konnection, Alley Cat Allies, the Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Alliance.
Animal Services Subcommittee meetings are open to the public.
(The writer – co-owner of the Village Deli in Augusta – is the founder and president of the animal rescue group That’s What Friends Are For.)