Cat-astrophe!: Pompano Opts to Keep Euthanizing Feral Cats

Pompano Beach has a policy of euthanizing unadoptable feral cats. On Tuesday night, commissioners considered an ordinance that would change that to an alternative policy of Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) -- a system in which cats are captured, sterilized, and then released where they were found. See Also: Killing Cats With Tylenol is Humane, Audubon Writer Says

Ultimately, though, they declined to adopt it, despite pressure from a room full of passionate cat people, including one woman wearing a "Feral Cat Mafia" T-shirt.

In a meeting that ran late -- just clearing midnight -- commissioners listened to presentations from those both for and against the ordinance, then to audience members.

Alley Cat Allies attorney Will Gomaa spoke first, arguing that TNR would benefit the community and is effective population control. "This would be a way to get more people engaged in spaying and neutering cats," said Gomaa. "If people are going to invest time, money, and effort, more people are going to do it if they know those cats are not going to be impounded at a later date."

He pointed to a number of university studies that show cats who live in wild colonies can have "healthy lives" and as "equally low instances of debilitating conditions" as pet cats.

On the other side, Animal Control Officer David Aycock countered with graphic photos of cat life on the streets, a reality that "cute pictures in TNR literature" fail to convey, he said.

"Cats obtain all types of injuries, are killed by traffic, mauled by dogs, poisoned, and shot by people," said Aycock. "I came here to make a difference." He also named feral cats' threat to wildlife and the public health risks as reasons to kill the proposal. A reference to the potential increased risk of suicide from toxoplasmosis (a parasitic disease for which cats serve as the main hosts) drew chuckles from the crowd.

Plus, "Pompano Beach already allows for managed cat colonies," he added.

However, by "managed" he meant "contained" in a backyard enclosed possibly by an "electric fence" -- not the sort of contained-but-free-to-roam-the-block cats one usually associates with a colony.

One pro-cat audience member explained that the cat lovers who typically volunteer to trap and sterilize cats -- there are some in every neighborhood -- are scared to do so in Pompano because they fear penalties for interfering with the management plan. This contributes to cat overpopulation.

"We all want to decrease the cat population," said one of the proposal's supporters. "The detractors say TNR doesn't work. I say let us show you... We come with money, resources, and volunteers."

Not surprisingly, passions and hyperbole continued to run high in statements from the crowd. One woman called upon the commission to resist the "popularity contest," referring to all the TNR advocates who showed up to support the ordinance, and urged them to be brave in spite of the community cat supporters' united front.

In the end, commissioners felt the proposed ordinance advocates overreached. For instance, it offered up some bizarre changes like eliminating animal control's ability to contend with stray feral cats or complaints, essentially deregulating cat population growth and turning the problem over to nonprofits and volunteers, who -- let's face it -- have an uncomfortable record of hoarding cats.

"You cannot ask elected officials to turn their city into a cat colony!" cried commissioner Barry Dockswell.

Mayor Lamar Fisher took the most measured approach: "I'd like to have staff look at those [Florida] counties and cities" that are experimenting with TNR, he said. Those counties include Brevard, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward. (Pompano is in Broward, but this ordinance, if it had passed, would have gone into effect in the city immediately, while the efforts on the county level could take years.)

"I don't know why we can't come to some meeting of the minds," he continued. "Maybe I'm utopian. I don't know."