Florida Legislature Poised to Approve Public Cat Hoarding

Cat colony by Greg Homel
Horde of feral cats by Greg Homel

(Washington, D.C., March 29, 2013) Despite public opposition, the Florida legislature is moving towards approving legislation that would authorize the public hoarding of cats by feral cat activists, in the face of potential public health and property value impacts, as well as predicted high mortality for native animals. The cost of cleaning up these areas could also fall on Florida taxpayers.

The Florida House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources passed H.B. 1121 on Wednesday, March 20 and the Florida Senate Committee on Agriculture is set to vote on S.B. 1320 on Monday, April 1. Both bills remove a significant impediment to public cat hoarding by making it much easier for irresponsible people to dump unwanted cats in hoarding areas without penalty, and by suspending liability for individuals who maintain the hoarding areas.

These public cat hoards are often cited by feral cat activists as an alternative to euthanasia of cats, but given the rate at which cats can reproduce, the result will likely be a rapid increase in Florida's feral cat problem. Spay/neuter efforts will be unlikely to keep pace with the increase in cat abandonment and reproduction if the legislation were to pass.

The State effort was opposed by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading bird conservation organization; Audubon Florida; Florida Defenders of Wildlife, a leading Florida wildlife advocacy group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (who described the bill as a disaster for cats), and by the Florida Veterinary Medical Association.

“This is shocking. Hoarding of animals in homes is prohibited in most places but we now have Florida encouraging it in public places such as city parks. There is no question that the health of local citizenry – including children – is being put at risk, property values in the hoarding areas will be impacted and local wildlife will continue to be devastated,” said Grant Sizemore, Cats Indoors Program Manager for ABC.

Sizemore pointed out that studies show that 62-80 percent of all feral cats carry the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis – a disease of special concern for pregnant mothers. It can be contracted by coming in contact with areas that the cats have defecated on. Even more seriously, cats are also the leading transmitter of rabies among domestic animals in the U.S.

Sizemore pointed out further that: “Even if the threat of serious disease is not off-putting, the fact is that one in five Americans – about 48 million people – engage in birdwatching. None of those people will want to live in an area that has a state-sanctioned cat hoarding area. We continually get calls from people asking what they can do to get rid of the feral cats that kill the wildlife in their backyards that they so enjoy watching. It is not inconceivable that when word gets out to the wildlife community, birdwatchers may begin to avoid Florida as a birding destination with potentially significant economic impacts to small businesses."

Sizemore said that dozens of studies, mostly peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals document both the health and wildlife impacts of the 60 million feral cats and 60 million owned cats that have access to the outdoors. The most recent such study came from scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which named outdoor cats as the single greatest cause of direct, human-caused mortality for birds and mammals. The study, which is described as the most comprehensive analysis of information on the issue of outdoor cat predation, found that bird and mammal mortality caused by outdoor cats is much higher than has been widely reported, with annual bird mortality now estimated to be 1.4 to 3.7 billion and mammal mortality likely 6.9 – 20.7 billion individual animals.

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