Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Orange Park Council to Hear Feral Cat Proposal; Committee Presenting Plan for Animals, Caregivers in Town

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Orange Park Council to Hear Feral Cat Proposal; Committee Presenting Plan for Animals, Caregivers in Town

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

A citizens committee has recommended Orange Park establish a volunteer-based trap-neuter-release program to curb the town's growing feral cat population.

The committee, which will present its final report to the Town Council on Tuesday, also recommends people who feed or manage the undomesticated cats register with the town and limit their caretaking to their own property or other private property with the permission of the owner.

Mayor Gary Meeks said he hopes the report will bridge the chasm between residents who view feral cats as nuisances that should be eliminated and those who spend their own money and time taking care of them.

"Overall, I think it will be well-received. It is seemingly a very workable solution," he said. "There are strong feelings on both sides. They came together at the end."

Former Councilman Ron Raymond, who chaired the committee, agreed. "No one is going to love it," he said. "Both sides got some of what they want."

The committee was formed in April after a council member's proposal to ban feral cat feeding outraged the area animal welfare community, some of whom picketed Town Hall. Seven residents were appointed to the committee, including people who had complained about feral cats and people who are feral cat caretakers.

They spent eight weeks meeting and researching the scope of the problem in Orange Park, which has an estimated 1,200 feral cats.

"The choice is not between having cats and not having cats. The choice is having the 'community cat' population continue to grow unmanaged or to reduce and manage this population," according to the report.

The committee looked at feral cat programs in other counties. They looked at the costs of such programs, as well as the town's available revenues and enforcement ability. They gauged potential cat caretaker and community support, among other things.

"The council has a reputation for kicking the can down the road. I think this is a real issue," Raymond said.

Although he was one of the people who had complained about feral cats, he said concerns that he would run a "kangaroo court" were unwarranted. He said he came to view caretakers as having "genuine, heartfelt" concern.

The report was clearly a compromise, with mixed feelings even from committee members.

"It's a very good effort" but will only go so far toward reducing the feral cat population, said committee member Barbara Davidson. "It's an endless thing. There is no way you can control it."

Committee member Melanie Seifried, who takes care of feral cats, said the recommendations should have provided more support for people who feed and manage feral cats and in some cases arrange for their neutering, all at their own expense. But the recommendations are a vast improvement over the proposed feeding ban, she said. …

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