A couple of weeks ago, the Sand Paper reported that Lee County Animal Control had apparently dropped the ball on a program to start a Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) program for feral cats on Fort Myers Beach. This week, we’re happy to update our readers that the program is up and running thanks to help from a local veterinarian – Dr. Shivers from Indian Creek Animal Hospital – and the Town.
“Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert and I got in touch with the county, and now it looks like the beach is going to share a grant with Lehigh Acres and that we will have our own program through Indian Creek Animal Hospital,” said Vice-Mayor Summer Stockton. “They (Indian Creek) submitted their paperwork in June – it just took a while for things to get processed.”
Former Vice-Mayor Dan Andre began working on the program when volunteer Joanne Knobloch came to Council asking for help months ago. A long-time beach resident, Knobloch has been tirelessly fighting to save the lives of feral cats on the island for years.
“Cats that have been neutered (sterilized) and released are not nuisance cats,” she said. “When they go in for neutering, they are micro-chipped so we can keep track of them and, once they are ‘fixed’, they don’t go through peoples’ garbage, eat birds or spray nasty smelling scents. They are happy, they sleep all day and they kill rats.”
According to Joanne, it’s the ‘cats or rats’ concept that have led many resorts to maintain small populations of neutered feral cats instead of setting out poison as a means of controlling their mice and rat problems. A bit of research found this to be true in major cities as well – many news articles report that urban communities are choosing cats instead of poison due to health concerns. A July report on CNN focused on the popularity of a feral cat program in the city of Chicago, where the city’s rats have been feeding on dog feces – considered to be a ‘rat delicacy’ according to Chicago Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams – and the numbers have grown out of control.
It is also a solution that Lee County Animal Control has espoused, which is why Knobloch has been taking the feral cats she traps there for chipping and neutering.
“For many years, we trapped and euthanized, and that didn’t get us anywhere, as other cats came in to take their place,” Animal Control Clinic Supervisor Andrea Rothwell told Town Council last year. “So we decided to sterilize all the cats eating from that food bowl, and they will keep other cats away. This is working, but slowly. We do not advocate cats going to where they’re not wanted or to wildlife preserves, but there are plenty of marinas and places that do want them. Once all the cats on FMB have been sterilized, it doesn’t take much to maintain.”
But the trip out to Lee County Animal Control from the beach is a long one, and communication sometimes difficult, so Knobloch went to Council asking for their help.
“I needed to find a local place to go,” she told us.
That’s where Dr. Shivers comes in. Beginning next week, Indian Creek will begin taking in a few cats each week from the beach, sterilizing, chipping and notching their ears to identify them as being part of the program, and releasing them back into Joanne’s custody. After they’ve recovered from the surgery, she will then put them back where she originally trapped them.
“The county reimburses the clinic for all of this – whether it comes from the grant money or from what the Town pays the County each year for Animal Control services, I’m not sure,” Joanne told us. (The Town paid Lee County Animal Control $19,000 for the current fiscal year).
Knobloch told us that the local program will start slowly – so as not to overwhelm Indian Creek – and that she will continue to take cats out to Lee County Animal Services when she needs to.
“What I really need right now are more volunteers,” she said. “Especially people with SUV’s, vans and trucks. I need help feeding and transporting, and I’m working with Summer to find a place where they can recover overnight before I release them back to their neighborhoods.”
Joanne also wanted us to send a word of caution to the many pet owners who let their cats go outside at will.
“You need to get them micro-chipped – that’s the only way they will for sure be returned to you in case they get caught in a feral cat trap or – even worse – a trap set by someone who plans to take the cat in for euthanization,” she said. “Lee County offers micro-chip clinics all the time where they will do it for only $10. This way if your cat is picked up, scanners will detect the chip and you will be called.”
To help Joanne with feral cats, call her at 239-463-6118. To find out when and where to get your cat micro-chipped, call 239-533-9234. To learn more facts about feral cats, visit Alley Cat Allies at alleycat.org.
Keri Hendry Weeg
Photo courtesy of Alley Cat Allies