Palm Beach Island Cats (PBIC) chooses to help the colonies of feral cats on our island by implementing the nationally accepted and proven effective process of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR offers the greatest chance of success both for the residents and the cats. This involves trapping the cats in a colony, having them spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, immunized against disease and marked for identification before returning the ferals to their territory. Caretakers daily provide food and water and monitor the colony for any newcomers or other problems.
At its essence, TNR is not about rescuing cats. It's about population control and permanently reducing the number of feral cats in an area. It's not about getting a wonderful cat a great home. It is about lowering stray intake and euthanasia rates, reducing costs for animal control, and creating a better and less hostile environment for the cats. In addition, spay/neuter of the cats eliminates common nuisance behaviors, such as yowling and foul odors, and vaccinating them for rabies and immunizing them against disease provides a public health benefit.
One of the most common sources of hostility towards feral cats is from people who don’t’ want them in their yards, gardens or other parts of their property.
President’s first response is "Relocate!", PBIC responds with not so fast. Not only is this time-consuming and uncertain, but it is assuredly not in the best interest of the neighborhood. By removing a feral colony, there is a vacuum created where new cats will quickly move in. The food source remains that created the colony in the first place; the food source is there based on the number of dumpsters of residences and businesses. This is the problem of the trap-and-remove approach -- people are just trading one colony for another. Secondly, feral cats are extremely territorial and have deep ties to their original homes. So more often than not, the cats will return to the same area thereby doubling the number of cats in the area. And lastly, the largest obstacle to relocation is the question of "where" -- there are only so many barns and sanctuaries in this country!!
Understanding the benefit of stabilized colonies has taken years of research and experience. Yet it remains a mystery to most residents. Inherent in the cat is a territorial instinct to protect its food source and locale. Therefore, a colony will limit itself to the number of cats the food source will support. Newcomers are unwelcome and will be fought off. The resident cats become very close and build bonds providing themselves socialization and interaction, and obnoxious behaviors cease. Stabilizing a colony allows PBIC to concentrate efforts for successful TNR implementation ensuring every cat in the colony has been sterilized. Residents can watch the colony slowly die out with attrition because the birth rate is zero; resident cats fade away with age. And residents can rest well at night knowing PBIC is monitoring the cats daily to ensure they are healthy and vaccinated while the cats continue to control the rodents so plentiful to waterfront living.
PBIC does not ask the community to embrace the ferals. But PBIC does ask for residents’ cooperation while the volunteers, colony caretakers and Directors work to make a difference in the community. Anyone who wants assistance with unwanted cats on their property is asked to call 561-512-4884 and talk with Wink (Field Director).
Recently PBIC faced "a protest" by a tenant at a commercial property -- who did it anonymously. It was hard for our Field Operations Team and Management to address the concern about the homeless cats when we didn't know the specifics. So when this matter arose, we decided it was time to restate our method of managing the feral cat program and explain why the many volunteers do what they can to better the plight of the cats.
A Bit of History.
In 2010 when Palm Beach Island Cats (PBIC) formed as an IRS-approved public charity, our organization made promises to the Town Council and residents of Palm Beach outlining how this program would operate. In short, we promised to calm what had become a contentious issue. PBIC is happy to report that promise has been honored and continues today.
- Town Hall and Code Enforcement no longer receive multiple and daily complaints about cats in various neighborhoods. Calls are received directly by PBIC.
- Every concern by residents about the homeless cats is addressed promptly and honestly.
- All homeless cats have been trapped (with rare exception) for purposes of sterilization surgery to prevent future generations and vaccinated against rabies and other feline diseases.
- Medical care is provided to sick or injured cats. All are micro-chipped and have computerized medical records.
- Residents are now vocalizing that fewer cats are around their property. (One resident actually accused PBIC of overdoing the trapping and sterilizations because she doesn't see as many cats anymore.)
- Kittens are removed from the field between four and six weeks, the perfect age to domesticate them, and they are now in adopted homes.
- Feeding stations are established only with the express permission of property owners.
- No destruction of personal property occurs by PBIC or anyone affiliated with the charity, and no trespassing is committed.
- Food and fresh water are provided 365 days a year despite weather conditions.
- Rodent problems are controlled by a healthy cat population.
- Experienced and educated contractors operate in the field.
- Feral cat colonies are registered with Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control indicating there are no un-owned cats in Palm Beach.
- Compliance with every national, state, county and town regulation is observed.
- The program has earned the confidence and trust of the Town Council by keeping a transparent, successful program in place with positive results.
PBIC’s original approach to management was to establish a specified feeding station in every known area of a cat population to "settle a colony." This allowed monitoring so that the cats could be monitored daily, and they stopped the roaming from place to place just to find sustenance. One of the first expenses was to purchase a stealth camera and locating it at the stations in order for Field Operations to observe and identify how many cats were on the island and to determine the number of unsterilized or sick cats. PBIC was comfortable reporting at that time about 750 cats were under the management of the program. Satisfied with the valuable information captured on film, PBIC was able to trap cats - station by station – to ensure that every cat was sterilized, vaccinated and immunized.
When Field Operations said they were seeing fewer cats at the 71 feeding stations, a second census was completed toward the end of 2013. As PBIC promised, the Field Staff continued to remove kittens and sterilize breeding cats. Today, the count shows a population at 550 healthy and aging cats. Never in feline history on this island has the community cats ever been healthier, more controlled and less obnoxious.
While there are still some dissenters of the program, it's a minute portion of the human population! The few opponents claim it's a waste of money, time and resources to "fool with the cats." On the other hand, it has been a success story for property owners, municipalities and animal welfare groups that realize the benefits. It is important to note that the goal of the program is not to abolish the entire cat population, but to manage the population through Trap-Neuter-Return.
But back to the reason that brings about this explanation.
One very early morning, the feeding team arrived at the commercial property where a permitted feeding station was located. The staff found landscape debris blocking access to the feeding station. Also, the feeding equipment had been removed and computer-generated signs posted advising PBIC that security tapes observed trespassing and destruction of property. The signs further accused PBIC of exposing the cats to poison and threatened legal action. We immediately contacted the Property Manager and explained what the feeding team had encountered. The property manager assured us that we had permission to be on the property, and to feed and maintain the cats. Also, the tenant was contacted by the Property Manager. The problem was resolved.
In Palm Beach, property owners know firsthand the feral cat management program keeps its’ promise. In 2000, the cat population in that one location had exploded to 125 sick and starving cats. Through the dedication of volunteers and perseverance of following the TNR guidelines, the cat population on that property today is about 35. The success of the PBIC program as evidenced on this property is replicated all over the island, and it's hard to argue with success!
People have strong passions on both sides of the free-roaming/feral cat issue, and myths and misunderstandings often interfere with the humane care of these cats. PBIC wants to lend some perspective on some theories.
Free-roaming and feral cats do not suffer! When the cats find shelter and food, avoid human contact and avoid or fight off predators, the cats are more likely to die by natural cause than by euthanasia when taken to veterinarians who don’t handle feral cats. One needs to ask the question whether the cat is suffering more than the free-roaming deer, squirrels, possums or foxes. For those that say yes, then they also will have to admit that all wildlife suffers. This simply is not the truth.
Some argue that these cats are better off dead than living a natural outdoor life. These people argue that the feral cats could be hit by cars. Expand that logic -- would we kill every bird, mammal or insect to spare them the potential pitfall? Why kill an animal living in nature just because it doesn't live a lifestyle with a human inside a house?
The biggest myth is that feral cats decimate wildlife and bird populations. There are many studies with many conclusions, but the inarguable reality is that people - not cats - have most significantly damaged the environment and the ecosystem, and have done far more to endanger the bird species and wildlife. Reasonable people must admit that the effect of cats on wildlife and bird populations is minute compared to the effect of humans.
PBIC has heard the misunderstanding that once feral always feral. What we've observed is quite the opposite. When fed regularly, most feral cats learn to recognize the caretakers and develop a sense of trust. It is not unusual for the ferals to recognize the sound of the car or the voice that arrives to bring food. With long-time care by one individual, the feral cats relax enough that they will rub the human's legs and can be touched. In fact, some feral cats become adoptable and live as housecats becoming extraordinary pets!
Another common myth is that feral cats are vicious or mean. From the feral cat’s point of view, it is the potential prey and humans are the predators. A healthy free-roaming cat will not stalk and attack a person. In fact, the cat will remain hidden and quiet until the unfamiliar person goes away. For example when a feral cat is caged at a clinic, it will still try to hide. Until provoked or given a chance to escape, the cat naturally will put all its energy into escaping. In short, it acts like a typical housecat that doesn’t want to be confided.
And the biggest argument by opponents of the feral cat management idea is that free-roaming cats are the source of diseases. Not only does PBIC know this is a false argument in Palm Beach, but a large-scale study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association proves otherwise. The rate of infectious diseases was similar to pet cats and free-roaming cats. And in some cases, pet cats had a higher disease rate than free-roaming cats. Because Mother Nature selects the healthiest animals, it is perfectly logical that the ferals are very healthy. In Palm Beach, the feral cats – affectionately dubbed “community cats” – are vaccinated against rabies and various feline diseases.
Caring people will always feed free-roaming cats, and laws cannot legislate human compassion. So the best solution is to embrace the idea that there is a responsible organization on the island handling the matter. The Trap-Neuter-Return program and managing the colonies are the proven best humane approach, and PBIC is doing just that!
Each day new situations confront the Field Director and her staff with the management of the homeless and community cats in Palm Beach. Director Winifred “Wink” Barber is very concerned with the recent spike of new cats being abandoned on the Island, especially in the Sanford Avenue area. “Not all of the never before seen cats are homeless cats - some of them are pets that have been abandoned in hopes that an animal friendly resident or our charity will take care of the pet,” Wink said.