Correction: This post has been corrected from an earlier version. Frogs and Cats Together said it does not plan to ask TCU for financial support.
Cowtown cat lovers who care for feral colonies would have to register with the city and agree to trap, neuter and return the animals to where they came from, under an ordinance City Council members are considering tonight (7 p.m. meeting at City Hall downtown) to deal with Fort Worth’s growing population of feral cats.
Scott Hanlan, the city’s assistant code compliance director, said the ordinance will put rules in place that cover what some number of samaritans and volunteer groups already do in Fort Worth.
“We have a sizeable cat population in Fort Worth, and we have absolutely no tools in place right now to monitor or address the continued population growth,” Hanlan said ahead of the council’s vote. “What we’re asking people to do, if they want to become a feral cat colony caretaker, they need to become part of the program.”
The city estimates its animal shelter euthanizes 3,000 feral cats annually, out of the total 5,000-6,000 cats it takes in. Hanlan said a goal of the ordinance is to reduce the numbers of cats coming into the shelter and the euthanasia cases.
The nine-page ordinance (click here to read it), which the city staff drafted after six public hearings, requires sponsors of feral colonies to register with the city. The city is working on the details, Hanlan said.
Sponsors would be responsible for approving and monitoring individual “caretakers,” helping to resolve complaints over caretakers and cats, and maintaining records on the spay/neuter and vaccination of each cat, sizes and locations of colonies, and placement of cats in homes.
Caretakers would have to register their colony with a sponsor, get the cats vaccinated and spayed or neutered, have the ears of those cats clipped for identification, provide the sponsor with records on each cat, feed and water the animals and maintain their health, and obtain a property owner’s approval in cases where caretaker needs access.
The city can revoke a sponsor’s status for non-compliance. And under the ordinance, it can fine people who maintain cat colonies but don’t register up to $2,000, which Hanlan said is consistent with other city code provisions that relate to health and safety.
The ordinance doesn’t provide financial support or spay/neuter and vaccination services to colony sponsors or caretakers, but the city can provide free rental traps, as available, Hanlan said.
The idea of a trap-neuter-return ordinance has support among various loose-knit groups that already have such programs.
But it’s also come under criticism from would-be supporters who believe the rules are too burdensome to volunteers, fear public information about the locations of colonies exposes those cats to risk, and say the $2,000 fine is confusing and will keep people from signing up. Some residents worry whether feral colonies pose health risks, and think neighborhoods should have a say in whether a colony can be registered in their area.
“We desperately want an ordinance,” said Cari Alexander, a librarian at TCU’s Mary Couts Burnett library who helped found the 7-year-old Frogs and Cats Together volunteer group on the university campus. “We are volunteering tons of time and money to help the city save thousands of dollars. We want to be a little more protected.”
She questions the fine. “It’s not clear enough who is going to be fined under what circumstances in this ordinance,” she said.
She and other Fort Worth feral cat protectors want colony locations to be secret, citing the mysterious disappearance of cats from a well-known Trinity Park colony in December.
“What kind of information is going to be available for some idiots to go out and get?” she said.
Frogs and Cats has “TNRd” a total 86 cats, is caring for 12 on campus now, and hasn’t had a litter born in at least three years, Alexander said. Volunteers hold fundraisers and pay out of their pockets for animal care.
She says her group will likely sign on as a caretaker with the Denton-based Texas Coalition for Animal Protection nonprofit, which operates low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinics in Fort Worth, Burleson and Denton.
TCAP will register as a sponsor, its executive director, Stacey Schumacher, said Tuesday. She estimates her nonprofit has spayed or neutered more than 135,000 animals and vaccinated 195,000 against rabies since its founding in 2002. It sterilizes cats for $15 and vaccinates for $5.
Schumacher said her organization expects to get strong interest from potential caretakers.
Besides groups that focus on feral cats, and there many other nonprofits that focus on pet ownership. And the ordinance also covers people who feed a few ferals in their neighborhood or park.
“There are countless people in Fort Worth who provide care for feral cats in their neighborhood,” she said. “We’re not talking groups. We’re talking onesies and twosies.”
Rose Lynn Scott, president of the Panther City Feral Cat Coalition, a loose-knit group that formed to provide guidance on the writing of the ordinance and has a trap-neuter-release program, questioned the amount of the fine, exposinig the locations of colonies to the public, and the number of new rules.
“We’re all volunteers, we’re doing this work for free, and now that they’re going to do this ordinance, they want to burden the people who are doing the work,” she said.