For 50 years now, people have flocked to Brevard County, Florida—home of the Kennedy Space Center—to witness some of the most wildly ambitious endeavors ever imagined. It was a similar pioneering spirit that led the community to adopt TNR in 1999, well ahead of so many others.
Today, a year after the final Space Shuttle flight, the future of manned spaceflight remains very much an open question. Sadly, the future of TNR in Brevard County is also in doubt.
On June 9th, Florida Today reported that “the Brevard County Commission slapped a moratorium on new colonies in residential areas” during its May board meeting. Now, “officials are researching changes to existing rules.” 
Among the county’s current requirements (PDF): annual registration and “express written permission from property owners where colonies are to be maintained.”
“County Commission Vice Chairman Andy Anderson, who proposed the moratorium, said he has seen an uptick in complaints to his office about feral cat colonies. He wants to change the ordinance so caretakers must not only notify immediate neighbors before starting a colony, but also get their approval.
“‘You have an expectation and a right to protect your property from species that could do harm to you or your family,’ Anderson said. ‘I think I have a right as a property owner not to allow animals in my yard. Somebody’s losing control of this situation, and we’ve got to fix it.’” 
In Indian Harbour Beach, “fixing it” means trapping and killing cats from unregistered colonies, according to what city manager Jackie Burns told Florida Today.  Some of which were apparently under the care of Satellite Beach resident Dawn Whedbee, who, the paper reports, spent about $1,400 on sterilization and vaccinations alone. “She displayed a poster featuring 27 of these cats—with red X’s over the faces of now-euthanized killed Cary, Bobby, Patsy, Curious and Moo Moo.”
For City Councilman Jim Nolan, Sr., restrictions aren’t enough. At a Council meeting last month, Nolan “unsuccessfully called for code changes banning future cat colonies.” 
“Nolan has owned numerous house cats over the years. But he believes Gleason Park’s roaming cats present a problem. He complained about code regulations that prohibit him from owning a single egg-laying hen in his yard, while residents can have 30 or 40 cats turned loose throughout neighborhoods.” 
(Sound familiar? Just last week I wrote about David Aycock, chief animal control officer for Pompano Beach, who claims he loves cats even while he promotes their lethal roundup in his community.)
On Monday, Florida Today reported that “the Brevard County Animal Advisory Board will hold two workshops within the next month to seek public input on possible changes in the county’s controversial feral cat ordinance.”
“Among complaints were cats straying onto neighboring properties, causing damage to vehicles and screen enclosures, leaving their droppings, and going after birds and sea turtle hatchlings.
Issues likely to be raised at the workshops include whether the colonies need to be registered, and if they need to be registered, whether they need the approval by neighbors, particularly in residential areas.” 
According to the paper, there are now 524 registered feral cat colonies in Brevard County. “But feral cat caregiver Debbie Rich of Melbourne said there also are many unregistered colonies.”
“‘People are hiding, because they don’t like government control’ and don’t want people dumping cats in their yards, said Rich, who has a registered colony but favors doing away with the registration requirement.” 
As Anderson, Burns, and all their colleagues know full well, this additional government control comes at a time when Brevard County can least afford it. Indeed the 2010–2011 budget for Animal Services and Enforcement (PDF available here) was cut 15 percent this past year, from $3.91M to $3.32M.
According to last year’s final budget, the most recent budget document available online, FY 2010–2011 was expected to “bring about the department’s greatest challenges as it continues the rebuilding of trust and support of the community.”
“The past two years have been challenging in the department’s struggle to build the necessary support by the community of its’ [sic] animal rescue and fostering programs, two of the most important programs needed to work for the [Brevard County] Commission’s stated objective of making Brevard County a leader in the movement towards a ‘no kill’ community.
Significant effort will be required in developing a public/private partnership to expand the outreach into the community that will allow the department to be a leader in the animal welfare movement within the County. The infrastructure of the two shelter facilities is sorely lacking in their ability to shelter animals in a healthy environment. The three outbreaks of canine distemper in the past two years is an indicator of the need for finding more suitable animal housing. This need combined with the restrictions of public funding of capital building projects makes it imperative to build the public/private partnerships that can ultimately assist in providing this needed facility expansion.
The rate of owned animal turn in rates at our shelters of unsterilized animals is also an indicator of the lack of public awareness of the crisis of pet overpopulation in the community. The increasing need to euthanize healthy animals due to the number of animals handled annually overall, coupled with the lack of available homes, rescues, and foster partners are further indicators of the need to improve the educational outreach in the community.” 
It’s difficult to see how further restricting TNR is going to move any of these needles in the right direction.
Among the “major service level impacts” anticipated for this year were:
- Eliminate three (3) enforcement officers assigned to administer dangerous animal law, rabies control services, animal rescue, cruelty and negligence cases, nuisance complaints and dispatch services.
- Increase case loads per Enforcement Officer… increasing corresponding complaint response time from 1 to 4 hours.
- Eliminate by 100 percent Spay/Neuter Rebate Program. [NOTE: $25,000/year was allocated for both 2009 and 2010.]
- Eliminate by 100 percent, two (2) weekly educational radio spots with an outreach to 17,000 persons per spot.” 
Overall staffing was expected to be cut “from 16 to 13 personnel, a 18.7 percent decrease. This will result in an increased response time to animal enforcement complaints from 1 to 2 days.” 
If Anderson, Burns, and all the others—both in and out of government—really think that the situation with stray, abandoned, and feral cats is going to get better with less TNR, they are kidding themselves (and, in the case of the elected officials, perhaps their less-well-informed constituents).
Alley Cat Allies
On July 9th, Alley Cat Allies issued an action alert, calling on Brevard County residents to “contact your county commissioners now and ask them to end the suspension of Trap-Neuter-Return colony registration and to preserve the ordinance as-is.”
Today, an open letter from ACA president and co-founder Becky Robinson will be published in Florida Today. (I don’t expect the letter will appear on the paper’s website, but a PDF version is available here.)
In the letter, Robinson asks county commissioners, on behalf of “Alley Cat Allies, our 300,000 supporters nationwide, and concerned citizens in the county… that you not lose sight of the reason this program was created—to save cats’ lives.”
“We understand that some issues have arisen that need to be managed, but in our experience these concerns can be addressed through public education, reminding residents that feral cats are not a threat. At your meeting on May 15, 2012, you barred volunteer caregivers from growing TNR in the county. If you chip away at the program, it will negatively affect the cats and the community. The proposed changes would discourage participation and TNR will suffer countywide. This is the wrong direction.
Brevard County has served as a model. Today, thousands of communities nationwide have embraced TNR. As trustees of your county, we ask that you continue to stand behind your program. We ask compassionate citizens in Brevard County to continue to oppose any changes to county law as those changes would put cats’ lives at risk.”
“We know,” Robinson adds in closing, “that by working together we can address any concerns without compromising the long-standing TNR program and continue to save cats’ lives. Please accept our offer to help.”
Others are stepping forward as well. Space Coast Feline Network, which, according to its website, works with both Brevard County Animal Services and Enforcement and ACA, making it “the predominant organization in Brevard County for feral cat colony management,” has started an online petition. (You might also show your support by “Liking” their Facebook page.)
1. Berman, D. (2012, July 9). Feral cat debate divides Indian Harbour Beach neighbors. Florida Today, from http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20120709/NEWS01/307090010/Feral-cat-debate-divides-neighbors
2. Berman, D. (2012, July 16). Public input sought for Brevard feral cat concern. Florida Today, from http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20120716/NEWS01/307160007/Public-input-sought-Brevard-feral-cat-concern
3. n.a., Animal Services and Enforcement in Budget Office Archived Budgets Years 2011 Through 2014. 2011, Brevard County Budget Office: Viera, FL. http://www.brevardcounty.us/Budget/FinancialManagement/ArchivedBudgets/2011-thru-2014