PETA Threatens Florida’s Community Cat Act

Less than two weeks after the “Community Cat Act” received unanimous approval from Florida’s House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, the bill (SB 1320) is scheduled to be heard and voted on by the Senate’s Agriculture Committee Monday afternoon.

As I reported in my previous post, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association came out in opposition to the proposed legislation last week, their “concerns” (PDF) a mix of misinformation and scaremongering (similar to the various complaints made by Audubon Florida when HB 1121 was before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee).

On Friday, I received word of another longtime TNR opponent stepping into the fray—and this one might surprise some readers: PETA.

In fact, PETA’s opposition to TNR is nothing new. As Nathan Winograd, director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, pointed out on his blog yesterday, “PETA successfully led the effort to oppose [Virginia’s SB 359 in 2012], joining kill shelters throughout the state and the Virginia Animal Control Association in defeating it.” (Referring to their current opposition to Florida’s Community Cat Act, Winograd used his Facebook page to describe PETA’s overarching philosophy on the issue: “‘feral’ cats are better dead than fed.”)

Earlier this year, PETA took the fight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, protesting the new community-wide TNR program established through a public-private partnership of Best Friends Animal Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department.

Humane Care, or Death

Late last week, PETA took aim at HB 1121/SB 1320—their “concerns” ranging from the disingenuous and dishonest to the dystopian. Teresa Chagrin, animal care and control specialist for the organization, issued the following letter to members:

A bill that is sure to spell disaster for cats has been introduced in the Florida legislature. If passed, Senate Bill 1320 (SB 1320)—and its companion bill in the House (HB 1121)—would essentially strip cats of existing legal protections by allowing humans who starve, neglect, and harm them to avoid criminal prosecution for cruelty to animals. This bill would make it legal to abandon cats outdoors to fend for themselves. In addition to endangering cats, the bill also puts wildlife at risk. Won’t you please help us stop this bill before it’s too late?

SB 1320 seeks to exempt people who own, feed, and care for cats who are left outdoors from having to comply with the current state laws that would hold an animal’s ‘owner’ accountable for the animal’s care and treatment. The proposed law does not require custodians who choose to take on the responsibility of caring for these vulnerable animals to provide even minimally adequate care, including food, water, shelter from the elements, and veterinary treatment for illness and injury. Just like the cats we keep in our homes and consider members of our family, cats left outdoors—sterilized or not—deserve humane care, including these very basic necessities.

Free-roaming cats are in perpetual danger of getting injured or killed by cars, getting attacked and maimed by other animals or cruel humans, and contracting diseases, some deadly. Feline leukemia, feline AIDS (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis, toxoplasmosis, distemper, heartworm, and even rabies can cause tremendous suffering and a slow, agonizing death.

There is no denying the fact that cats—while themselves in grave danger outdoors—maim and kill countless native birds and other small wild animals, who are already struggling to survive existing challenges (such as development in their habitats) and aren’t equipped to deal with such predators. Cats are not native to our ecosystem, and their hunting instincts exist even if they have a steady source of food.

Not everyone appreciates animals, and sadly, many people consider free-roaming cats a nuisance. When cats urinate, defecate, dig, walk on car hoods, eat plants, or kill birds where they are not welcome, some people take matters into their own hands, and the cats pay the ultimate price. Across the country, free-roaming cats are shot, poisoned, and stolen and then dumped in rural areas or woods by angry neighbors. They are also mutilated, drowned, beaten, set on fire, used in ritual sacrifice, stolen by ‘bunchers’ for experiments, or used by dogfighters as ‘bait.’ This bill would make such cruelty a far more frequent occurrence, and we need your help to stop it.

A number of PETA’s legal “concerns” have already been addressed quite effectively by Laura Nirenberg, legislative attorney for Best Friends, in the document (PDF) she put together in response to the FVMA’s opposition. The bottom line, as she explained to me, is that the Community Cat Act merely “allow towns to adopt non-lethal programs; nothing in the bill trumps current law”—and that includes laws governing animal cruelty and property rights.

And PETA’s interpretation of the relevant science is no better than their interpretation of the relevant laws.

Particularly troubling, though, is their alleged concern for the welfare of unowned cats. And not just because of PETA’s abysmal record on the companion animals in their own care. “Even if we knew that a cat would get hit by a car two years from now,” argues Winograd, “it isn’t ethical to rob him of those two years by killing him now. In the end, the answer from opponents of TNR programs—that we should stop cats from being killed by killing the cats ourselves—is a hopeless contradiction.”

Or, as veterinarian Kate Hurley, program director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, put it during her stellar presentation at The Outdoor Cat conference last December: “It’s rare that we consider the risk of suffering to a species to be so great that we intervene and kill.”

•     •     •

Like the FVMA and Florida Audubon, PETA’s got nothing in the way of a feasible alternative to TNR. Unlike the Community Cat Act, their empty rhetoric, misinformation, and scaremongering will do nothing to help Florida’s stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Suggesting otherwise is simply dishonest. And insulting—especially when we’re talking about a piece of legislation less than three pages long, rather plainly written, and available (amendments included) to anybody with an Internet connection.

Does PETA really think people are paying so little attention?

Florida residents: please contact members of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and urge them to support SB 1320!

• Chair: Senator Bill Montford (montford.bill.web@flsenate.gov)
• Vice Chair: Senator Dwight Bullard (dwight.larcenia.web@flsenate.gov)
• Senator Jeff Brandes (brandes.jeff.web@flsenate.gov)
• Senator Bill Galvano (galvano.bill.web@flsenate.gov)
• Senator Rene Garcia (garcia.rene.web@flsenate.gov)
• Senator Denise Grimsley (grimsley.denise.web@flsenate.gov)
• Senator Maria Lorts Sachs (sachs.maria.web@flsenate.gov)

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