Feral Cat Policy Changing in Athens, Georgia
In Georgia, the Athens Area Humane Society will stop accepting feral cats next year, and local officials may turn to Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) to manage the thousands of wild cats that roam the city.
The society has a philosophical difference with the county with respect to the way in which they deal with feral cats. Executive Director Crystal Evans feels that keeping unadoptable feral cats -- wild animals -- in cages for a week before killing them is cruel and futile. "We would argue, for a truly feral animal, that's inhumane," she said. "These are cats that have had basically no human contact, so basically what you're doing is scaring them to death for seven days and then killing them."
Evans explains that the approximately 120 aggressive feral cats taken to the humane society each year occupy space that could be used for adoptable pets, forcing more cats to be euthanized and upsetting donors. They're also a danger to employees, she adds.
This philosophical difference conflicts with the way in which the city of Athens would like the feral situation to be addressed, so the society is backing out of its $100,000 annual contract with the county.
Athens-Clarke officials now have a year to figure out how to control the feral cat population, estimated at 8,000 to 20,000.
They might turn to an organization like the Campus Cats, a volunteer group that traps feral cats, spays/neuters them, vaccinates them and returns them to the area in which they were trapped. Currently, TNR is illegal in Clarke County, but not on University of Georgia-owned land. Advocates are lobbying county commissioners to change the local law to permit it.
More and more local governments are allowing TNR, and a few, such as Jacksonville, Fla., are turning over feral cat management to TNR groups.
Legalizing TNR could be an uphill battle. TNR is not without its detractors and for every cat lover who feels that TNR is a humane practice that should be a legal alternative to trap-and-kill, another will argue that TNR does nothing to reduce feral populations and disrupts the environment.
TNR should be legal but not the sole means of managing feral cats, Athens-Clarke Commissioner Kelly Girtz says. "I don't think anybody thinks of it as the silver bullet, the be-all end-all. It's something that's useful, but not in all circumstances."
"The simple fact is neither is a perfect solution, but what we want to happen is for individuals to be able to choose," Evans says.
[PHOTO CREDIT: David Manning, OnlineAthens]