By Paulette Dean
In early summer, Dr. Richard Wilkes, the State Veterinarian, established a work-group to study the comprehensive animal laws. The idea for the workgroup came before the last legislative session, but became a reality after the session was a contentious one for animal issues.
I was asked to serve on this work-group, and have gone to Richmond for the meetings. Statewide animal groups are represented, including the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters, Virginia Animal Control Association, and the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, as well as the Virginia Department of Health, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Farm Bureau. Other at-large members recommended by stakeholders are included.
We have been tasked with discussing trap/neuter/release programs because this issue is a volatile one, with passion on either side.
In formal trap/neuter/release programs, feral and/or stray cats are trapped, sterilized, ears tipped, given a rabies vaccination, and then returned to the trap site. The thought is that they are cats that would not be happy being placed in homes. During the trapping process, the younger kittens are also picked up and placed as pets. The released cats became part of a managed cat colony.
Under Virginia law, the process has been considered abandonment. Proponents of the program consider it a more humane alternative than trapping feral cats and taking them to shelters, where the outcome will probably be euthanasia. Opponents of the program believe that the cats do not live happy lives; they still face the perils of being in the wild.
Last year, a bill was introduced that would have made TNR programs legal for localities to support, but there was a change in how the program would be managed. After sterilization, the cats would have been released onto property, and no one would have been responsible for feeding them, monitoring their health, making sure they have rabies boosters, etc.
There are many complex issues associated with this. For instance, if a stray cat is trapped, veterinarians cannot obtain permission from an owner to perform surgery because there is no owner. The legislation last year would have designated the person who trapped the cat to be the owner only for the few minutes it would take to sign the release form. How can a locality prosecute owners of animals who fail to provide adequate care, but then not require adequate care of these feral cats? On and on and on the discussion goes.
The wildlife people are opposed to any feral cat colonies. In fact, they support cat licensing, and not allowing cats to roam at large.
My opinion is that managed colonies at least give a degree of care and protection to the feral cats, but the colonies should be registered and monitored. I feel sorry for the wildlife, though. I am strongly opposed to releasing cats without having to provide food, water, and shelter.
One thing that everybody at the table agrees on – there are too many cats being born. Hopefully, this workgroup can reach a humane solution to the seemingly overwhelming problem.