SEBRING Both the state and Highlands County are designing laws to reduce Florida’s feral feline population.
The cat fight is over whether it’s better to capture and euthanize free-roaming cats, or if wild cats should be fixed and released.
SB 1320 is stalled. “This bill was temporarily postponed by the sponsor in the senate to continue to work on the language,” said State Sen. Denise Grimsley.
HB 1121 has passed the Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, but it’s waiting to be calendared by Local & Federal Affairs.
“I voted in favor,” said State Rep. Cary Pigman. “I anticipate remaining in favor.”
Supporters say the bills could kill fewer feral cats because neutering produces no kittens.
Preston Robertson, a lobbyist for the Florida Wildlife Federation, said feral cats are "decimating our wildlife" and that lawmakers shouldn't stamp “Okay” on programs that free the cats. Audubon of Florida, which is worried, at least in part, about wild cats dining on birds.
“So do other birds,” said Barry Edgley, who rescues dogs and cats in Zolfo Springs.
“The main reason for this is to stop them breeding,” Edgley said. “It’s not perfect. It’s not a panacea. It won’t cure the feral cat problem overnight. But if they can’t breed, all they can do is live their life and die. The average age of a feral cat is about seven.”
Another argument against the bills is that releasing feral cats allows them to slowly starve. Edgley doesn’t buy that argument either.
“It’s only abandonment if you don’t look after them. There are people who will look after them.”
Some parts of the state already have programs to capture, neuter and return cats to the wild. But the bills clarify that cities and counties can set up programs and remove concerns that releasing cats could be considered illegal abandonment.
The Highlands veterinarians group is not scheduled to report its findings to the commissioners because they’re waiting on a draft of the animal control ordinance from County Attorney Ross Macbeth. On Tuesday, Macbeth said he was unaware the vets were waiting on him.
Individuals and groups feed feral cats, although local veterinarians want to reduce that. The Veterinarians Advisory Committee, appointed by the Highlands County commissioners to study the problem, voted 6-1 in favor of this language: “No person shall place or cause to be placed any food source or container meant to hold any food source for the purpose of feeding feral cats on any public property, public walks, recreation areas or the private property of others unless otherwise authorized by the property owner.”
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, has the backing of groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Best Friends Animal Society. Part of their argument: If neutering leads to fewer cats, fewer birds will be eaten.
Before voting for the bill, Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, acknowledged it was not "purrrrfect."