Nobody is served when cats are fed outside and allowed to roam freely through neighborhoods, says animal-protection activist Pam LaSalle.
So she is irked that the Brevard County Commission supported Sheriff Wayne Ivey’s proposal for “community cats” last week when it passed his series of proposed revisions to the county’s Animal Services Ordinance.
“Why would we put animals back inhumanely out into the wild?” LaSalle, of Viera, asked after the commission’s vote. “I’ve never seen a cat colony without raccoons there.”
At least, she said, the commission should have held a public workshop well ahead of voting. That way, she said, they could have heard from concerned pet owners and animal-welfare activists and ordered changes to the ordinance, rather than hearing from 14 people the day of the vote.
On a motion from County Commissioner Curt Smith of Melbourne, the board voted 5-0 Jan. 23 to adopt a set of revisions to the animal ordinance. County attorneys said it hadn’t been updated in 20 years.
Ivey, whose office took over Animal Control from the commission in 2014, said the updates will allow his staff to provide more efficient and effective care, through adoptions and other programs, for stray and nuisance dogs and cats.
Since his staff took over, he told commissioners, they increased the agency’s live-release rate from 55 percent to more than 95 percent. That qualifies the county for “no kill” status, he said.
He cited figures that show the county decreased the animals it euthanized from 4,869 in 2013 to 160 in 2017.
Ivey said his staff accomplished that through a combination of adoptions and “release to field,” the latter being a practice of spaying or neutering free-roaming cats and releasing them back where they were caught. The released cats can’t breed, but aren’t euthanized.
LaSalle said the county should work to adopt out the free-roaming cats instead of releasing them.
The new program of “community cats” will require a resident to step up as the animals’ caregiver and provide the right food and medical care. They can be exempt from normal licensing requirements, the ordinance states, but they also can be fined $100 or more if they fail to keep up the program.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi of Palm Bay, said she has seen large feral cat colonies in places like Canova Beach.
“The public should have the freedom to roam, without stepping in excrement or having to deal with a lot of cats,” she said.
Ivey said his program will use education, spaying and neutering to cut down feral-cat populations. One part of the ordinance, he said, restricts people from feeding outdoor cats at night.
“There is an appropriate time to feed,” he said. “Late at night, you invite wildlife to interact with the cats.”
And that can lead to rabies, he added.
While many residents protested any euthanasia at all, Cocoa resident Dub Drinnon slammed Ivey for cutting back on euthanizing feral cats. He said the problem has “mushroomed” since Ivey took over Animal Control and called for commissioners to take it back. Drinnon said Ivey has based his no-kill goals on “a few animal-rights activists.”
Meanwhile, Melbourne veterinarian Dr. Denise Van Cleef objected to Ivey’s proposal to replace the Dangerous Dog Council with a single magistrate. She said the council, which she chairs, has members who are experienced in animal behavior and can determine whether a dog is truly dangerous or just provoked by a human. An attorney, she said, may not be as familiar with dogs.
“I like having that impartial, non-emotional presence in the room,” Isnardi said of the magistrate.
Commissioner John Tobia, whose district includes the Melbourne Beach area, had said he would vote against the ordinance.
But he changed his mind and joined the majority.
Ivey won his support, Tobia said, when he dropped a requirement for veterinarians to sell county license tags, after administering rabies shots, and relay the fees to the Sheriff’s Office. More than 35 veterinarians already do so voluntarily, Ivey said. And the latest revisions keep it voluntary, although veterinarians now have to relay certificates of rabies vaccines.