Space Coast Feline Network Reducing the Community Cat Population Through TNR
By Space Coast Daily // December 30, 2019
SCFN: Trap-Neuter-Return is humane, cost-effective, tenable method to reduce cat overpopulation
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Every day, Sandy Goad goes catting about, literally, as in looking for cats. Goad, a member of the Space Coast Feline Network, is a caregiver for several cat colonies scattered throughout Titusville.
She has spent thousands of her own dollars and countless hours on feeding animals that, for the most part, she will never be able to even pet.
Such is the devotion of the members of the Space Coast Feline Network, the nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to the humane care and control of the homeless cat population in the county.
The primary focus of the group is TNR, or Trap, Neuter and Return, considered the gold standard by national humane organizations such the ASPCA.
With the Network’s help, every year more than 800 Brevard kitties are caught in humane traps, taken to the vet for to spaying or neutering and returned back to their colonies to live out their lives without creating more unwanted felines.
The Feline Network has orchestrated TNR in Brevard since 1999, spaying or neutering more than 14,000 cats and kittens, and thus preventing the birth of approximately 210,000 more homeless cats.
The Feline Network also operates a volunteer-run shelter for 70 feral and feline leukemia cats.
“Our long-term goal is to get out of the sheltering business and focus only on spay and neuter,” said Goad.
“Trap-Neuter-Return is the humane, cost-effective, and tenable method to reduce cat overpopulation.”
Together with fellow humane group HOPE (Helping Overpopulation of Pets), in 2014 the Feline Network started the Brevard County Sheriff’s Animal Services’ return-to-field program as volunteers to prove that Brevard County could transition, like other progressive parts of the country, into a no-kill community for dogs and cats.
Thanks to the partnership that involves the Sheriff’s Office and humane organizations such as the Feline Network, Brevard has been able to become a no-kill community in just a few years, which means that at least 90 percent of animals entering shelters leave them alive.
When Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey took over Animal Services in 2014, the live release rate had averaged a dismal 55 percent over the preceding five years. For animals at shelters, that meant almost a half-and-half chance between being euthanized or finding a new home
If dogs had it bad in terms of adoption prospects, cats, particularly feral cats, had it worse.
Most ferals were immediately euthanized upon arrival at the shelter because they were deemed unadoptable. These days, all cats entering the shelter now are spayed or neutered within days of entering the shelter.
Some are put up for adoption and others, depending on age and health, are ear-tipped (the universal sign of an altered feral cat), vaccinated and returned by the Sheriff’s Office’s Return-to-Field/Community Cat Officer to the original neighborhood the animal was found.
“The theory behind this program is if they are healthy and of a good weight, they obviously had a good food source and will go back to that food source,” explained Goad.
“It’s not easy going from an Animal Services regime that euthanized every cat they suspected to be feral to TNR’ing them instead and putting them back in their neighborhood to live out their natural lives.
“Some of the abandoned pet cats that get put back out in their neighborhoods eventually find a kind person to take them in and give them a home or to simply provide food and water. If enough of the neighborhood cats are TNR’d, the number of cats will eventually start to reduce as long as more unaltered cats are not brought into the neighborhood and allowed to roam freely.”
The politically correct term these days is “community cats,” a group that includes true ferals that are unsocialized and keep a distance from humans, as well as house cats that have been dumped by their owners.
“Community cats include abandoned pet cats, strays and their offspring,” said Goad.
“After many people lost their homes to foreclosure a number of years ago, many pet cats were left behind and those pet cats joined feral colonies out of necessity to survive and find food and water sources.”
Whether you call them feral or community cats, these unwanted felines are fortunate to count on champions such as Cathy Juba, recognized as Feral Cat Supporter of the Year by the Feline Network during their annual awards banquet in November.
Juba, who rescues with The Last Chance Sanctuary, every year pulls about 100 cats, primarily friendly cats that would have been “returned to field,” from the county shelter and takes them to Petsmart or Petco to try and find new homes.
In one year alone, she spent around $20,000 of her own income on fostering cats and on feeding feral colonies, including one of 45 black cats in Viera and in donating food to other colony caregivers.
She has trapped and fixed many of the ferals that live around Wickham Park, all while holding down two jobs and having debilitating medical issues.
Nancy Allen, another volunteer honored by the Feline Network this year, has helped at the Network’s spay/neuter clinics since 2006, even though she lives close to 60 miles away.
After the clinics, she continues with chores such as ferrying a litter of kittens that had to be seen by a specialist in Cocoa, a 92-mile round trip for Allen.
As a volunteer at the county shelter, Allen would text pictures of animals to rescuers, saving many by getting them into a foster home.
Allen herself has fostered countless animals. Many years ago, she and her husband, Robert, began a foundation in memory of their beloved kitty, Daphne. Daphne Foundation funds spay and neuters at the Brevard Spay/Clinic in Palm Bay, covering the cost for both feral and owned cats.
A Constant Battle
The Space Coast Feline Network fights a constant battle in educating the public.
“Educating the public to recognize and help with the over-population of cats within their own neighborhood is and will be an on-going process that will take years,” said Goad.
“Public education is the biggest hurdle for refinement of no-kill programs to work and making the public understand that dumping unwanted and usually unaltered neighborhood cats to other neighborhoods or locations is just as inhumane as euthanasia due to overcrowded shelters. There are not enough homes for all the cats and kittens in Brevard. We cannot adopt out way out of the over-population problem.”
The Space Coast Feline Network continues to hold bi-monthly spay/neuter clinics in Titusville and HOPE continues to offer low and no-cost spay/neuter of cats in Palm Bay at Brevard Spay/Neuter Clinic. For more information, see fixaferal.org and hopeforbrevard.org.
Other low-cost spay/neuter programs for community cats include the Brevard Humane Society in Cocoa.
A co-pay program is offered by Animal Guardians of Brevard for pet cats at Brevard Spay/Neuter Clinic in Palm Bay and the SPCA of Brevard in Titusville.
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