My last column expressed my support for the idea of Trap, Neuter, Release…if done right. I am beyond disappointed in our county commissioners (again) because they have very hastily voted to implement a TNR plan without addressing the concerns of the animal welfare community. They have completely ignored and disenfranchised the many taxpaying voters who contacted their offices with concerns and questions. (The lone exception was Commissioner Noack, who voted against the TNR program, precisely because of the many unanswered questions.)
Here’s what the Montgomery County Commissioners Court has voted to put in place. The “Community Cat” program purportedly will divert as many as 80% of the cats coming into MCAS. By “divert,” they mean that these cats will not go up for adoption through MCAS. They will be transported to a third party agency, which will spay or neuter, vaccinate, and ear tip the animals at taxpayer expense. Theoretically, those animals will then be returned to where they were trapped.
The feedback I have seen so far in the animal welfare community has been largely negative, and the people complaining are raising the same questions I have, including:
*What guarantee do we have that the animal is being returned to his original environment?
*How do we know that the animal is safe from humans at that location?
*How do we know that the animal is, in fact, a “community cat” (defined in the literature as not having a particular owner)?
*Why are animal control officers being ordered to take trapped cats directly to the third party agency?
*How are owners supposed to find missing pets if they have been taken elsewhere and released?
*How will these supposedly stable colonies be monitored?
*Who will feed them?
*Will they be microchipped?
*Will their vaccinations be maintained over time?
*If the shelter budget was just so drastically increased, why are we scrambling to save a couple of dollars per animal by paying a third party agency?
*To whom is this third party agency accountable? What exact contractual responsibilities will the third party agency have?
*Did the commissioners do ANY due diligence before entering into this contract?
*Is this even legal???
I have no answers to many of these questions. Best I can tell, neither do the commissioners. But let me address a couple of specific concerns.
The cornerstone of the community cat program requires that captured animals be returned to the place they were caught, under the theory that they will be safest in a familiar environment. Imagine how people searching for missing pets will react when the shelter tells them that their cat was sent to a third party agency to get a piece of his ear chopped off and then dumped back outside. Imagine how the general public will respond when they trap animals, call animal control, and three days later find the same animal back in their yard.
Some will respond by saying that people who love their pets should keep them indoors, and then they won’t have to worry about it. That’s disingenuous at best, and certainly not realistic. Barn cats are a reality. Outdoor cats WITH HOMES AND OWNERS are a reality. My parents, for example, have an outdoor cat who is at least 22 years old, and maybe older. (He showed up at the farm in 1995 as a younger adult.) He is very loved, very well cared for, and if he lived in Montgomery County, this would potentially be a disaster for him.
I ask again, what guarantee do we have that animals will be released where they were found? It puts the county in the position of relying on the general public to tell the truth about the origins of the animals they trap. Every ACO and shelter employee will tell you that people lie every day about the animals they turn in. They claim unwanted animals are strays, or that their ex’s stolen pet is actually theirs. Once they figure out that these animals will be released back into the community, there are people who will absolutely lie about where the animals were found, which will put them at further risk. This will also increase the county’s liability if they release an owned animal in the wrong place because someone provided wrong information.
Another major concern I have is animal cruelty. It’s an ugly truth, but there are far too many people in the world who view animals as disposable. As nuisances. As fair game for whatever terrible death they want to mete out to them.
What’s going to happen when the county releases hundreds of cats into the community? Projected numbers range as high as 300 cats per month. That’s 3,600 cats per year. Some of those cats are inevitably going to wind up in places where people don’t want them. If Animal Control can’t remove them because of this new program, that means some of those cats will be shot, or poisoned, or trapped and killed in some other fashion.
The commissioners seem particularly impressed with the dollar amounts being saved, so I wondered what it will cost the county to prosecute animal cruelty in these cases. The District Attorney tells me that the very simplest animal cruelty case will cost around $5,000 to take to trial. That’s if they don’t have expert witnesses and the trial itself is a short one. If it’s a felony case, the cost of prosecution can easily exceed $10,000. If there are multiple animals involved, it goes up exponentially from there. If the defendant qualifies for a public defender, the taxpayers foot that bill, too. These numbers render the minimal financial incentive for releasing 3,600 cats irrelevant at best.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at those prosecution costs, and which taxpayer funded agencies would bear that expense. In the meanwhile, I hope the commissioners will take a closer look at the consequences of their most recent decision, because I don’t think they thought this through.