Wake County Commissioners are considering amending the animal control ordinance to allow a Trap-Neuter-Return option to control feral cat populations around the county. The merits of allowing such a program were discussed at the commissioners’ work session Monday.
Under the current ordinance, when a Wake County resident calls animal control with a complaint relating to a feral cat, an animal control officer traps the cat and brings it to the Wake County Animal Shelter. It remains at the shelter for three days — to allow it to be claimed by a possible owner — before being euthanized. Feral cats are considered unadoptable.
More than half the cat euthanizations performed by the shelter last year were feral.
Matt Roylance, the county’s deputy environmental services director, said staff recommends amending the animal control ordinance to allow private groups or individuals to trap, spay or neuter and then return feral cats to colonies.
Residents who call animal control would then have the option to have the animal picked up as usual or get contact information for a non-profit group that could trap, vaccinate and spay/neuter the cat before releasing it. The cat’s ear would be clipped so that it could be easily identified as a TRN cat.
Roylance said the logic is that if there are going to be feral cats in that area anyway, it would be better if they were vaccinated and couldn’t reproduce.
Roylance explained the pros of the program, including a decreased number of calls to animal control officers, which leads to lower cat euthanasia rates and increased space for adoptable cats.
One of the program’s cons is the issue of public health. Putting the cats back into the wild exposes them and the public to a myriad of diseases and infections, including rabies, salmonella and parasites. A report given to commissioners states that cat bites and scratches put the public at risk for infections, tetanus and cat scratch disease.
Resulting cat colonies also face nuisance complaints from neighbors who don’t want feral cats near their homes. Sometimes, such colonies become a dumping ground for unwanted cats and cause quality of life issues for other wild animals.
The draft ordinance does not include colony protections from neighbors who find them to be a nuisance. As it is written, anyone could ask animal control to pick up the cats — even if they were part of the TNR program.
That situation occurred in February when the TNR group Operation Catnip filed a complaint against Wake County for violating a verbal agreement not to pick up TNR cats in an Apex mobile home park. The News & Observer reported that two of the 12 cats escaped euthanasia, but that animal control officials can continue to bring in feral cats.
While the commissioners seemed in favor of including the TNR option, they had questions about provisions in the law intended to hold someone accountable for the welfare of the colony.
Commissioner Erv Portman said some of the requirements, like registering each colony and maintaining vaccination records, would be too onerous for residents. Portman also took issue with the term “caretaker,” since it does not differentiate between someone putting out some food and the non-profits who are trapping, neutering and returning the cats.
Caretakers would also be liable for ensuring their colony’s cats are neutered, or they will be fined $200. Caretakers who no longer care for the colony without arranging for a proxy could be charged with abandonment.
Portman suggested meeting with some of the interested groups to find out if they can compromise.
The commissioners asked staff to meet with the groups, review a similar law in Moore County and draw up an alternative with less restrictions so that both can be reviewed side by side. Both laws could be reviewed at the next work session April 9.
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