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Things are changing for stray cats who end up in South Florida shelters, and things are changing shockingly fast. Not too long ago, thousands of stray cats were being euthanized in animal shelters in all three counties. But in less than two years, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach have implemented game changing ordinances, internal procedures and common sense programs which ensure the overwhelming majority of strays are returned to their communities after spay-neuter surgery and vaccination. Just as impressive is the consensus among lawmakers, shelter management and the public in all three counties that stray cats should be given a chance to live, instead of being euthanized when ending up in an animal shelter. Accordingly, after being fixed and vaccinated, a stray cat who ends up in South Florida shelters is now classified as a “Community Cat.”

The newly created community cat programs have huge implications worthy of elaboration.

First, there is the most important and direct result: decades of community cat euthanasia in the hundreds of thousands is now reversed. We tend to like cute pet stories showcasing one animal and we shy away from thinking about big numbers… but a cute story doesn’t do this statement justice: decades of euthanasia in the hundreds of thousands has been reversed. Whether we used to see it or not (or convinced ourselves to ignore it because we couldn’t change it) most community cats never made it out of animal shelters in the past. Today, community cats are among the lowest at-risk groups of shelter animals in South Florida.

The stage for change was set when lawmakers and shelter management in all three counties either passed ordinances granting authority for the release of community cats (Broward and Palm Beach) or simply changed their internal procedures to do so (Dade.) New rules and regulations, as well as revamped internal procedures focusing on a more positive outcome for community cats were implemented. This has led to thousands of cats being saved and returned to their communities.

The second implication of the community cat programs can be summed up simply as “people care.” That’s right: lawmakers, staff, shelter management and private groups of all sorts are showing that they care about cats. And when presented with a reasonable alternative to euthanasia, the overwhelming majority are willing to listen and act. This demonstrates an important principle: reasonable people listen to reasonable arguments. In this case, spay-neutering a cat and providing a rabies shot, then returning the cat back outside is far more reasonable and morally acceptable than trap and kill, the traditional method of dealing with then-stray cats.

People in all walks of life just simply care and we care more than we did a decade or two ago. The perceived value of cats continues to increase exponentially. The overwhelming majority of the time, the public (and also the residents who trapped cats and brought them to the shelter) are ecstatic and take responsibility for the return of the cat back to the community. Most residents who trap cats outside have good intentions and in many situations don’t want to see more kittens born outside. Residents are extremely receptive and welcoming to the return of the cats once fixed and vaccinated.

The tri-county community cat programs also help set an example for other places throughout the U.S. to follow. Combine Dade, Broward and Palm Beach and you get a sizable population comparable to any place in America. There are also a slew of wealthy and prominent folks here in private industries and in government. Simply put, South Florida breeds influence and opinion-setting – “if they’re doing it, it’s ok for us to do it also.” So as cats here benefit, the same approach is sure to spread in other communities just as it has here by means of First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNMHP) who started the first large-scale community cat program called “Feral Freedom” in Jacksonville, FL.

The overall care for, and well-being of community cats in South Florida has recently increased tremendously – inside and outside of shelters. We all have something to be proud of and embrace, but continue to build upon because many challenges still remain in continuing to enhance the quality of life for cats.

Andi Kola
Lumen LS, Inc

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