A Commitment to Lethal (Non) Control

The reason the American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, The Wildlife Society, and others oppose TNR is, explained chief Animal Control Officer for Pompano Beach, Florida, David Aycock, during a barn-burner of a City Commission meeting Tuesday night, “that these animals are not safe out there—on their own, by themselves.

I was reminded of that famous line from Forrest Gump: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Aycock’s presentation (which began about two-and-a-half hours into the meeting, which is available for streaming on the city’s website): all the usual misinformation (e.g., TNR being less effective and more costly than trap-and-kill, threats to wildlife, etc.), scaremongering (e.g., rabies, toxoplasmosis, etc.), and contradictions (e.g., TNR doesn’t work because “they cannot all be caught,” but enough are caught through a traditional complaint-driven system to bring overall populations levels down, etc.).

And I was not disappointed.

Indeed, as I watched Aycock read one slide after another—many containing quotes from studies he has almost certainly never read*—I was surprised at the lengths he went to, however unwittingly, to undermine his commitment, made during Aycock’s opening remarks, to “present the facts and express the truth from the perspective of experience and training.” (And all the while failing to address an essential truth articulated so well by my colleague Laura Nirenberg, legislative attorney for Best Friends: sterilized and vaccinated cats are better than the alternative.)

It was, in short, painful to watch.

But the steady stream of propaganda wasn’t actually the worst of it. As I say, that was to be expected. Far more troubling is Aycock’s commitment to the ongoing killing of outdoor cats, and his bizarre justification for it: he loves cats.

That’s what Aycock told the Sun Sentinel a year ago, in a story describing how Broward County officials are struggling to become a no-kill community while Aycock insists on “continuing his aggressive approach, sending scores of feral cats from Pompano Beach to their shelters.”

“‘The simple fact is the public wants to believe that you can do it without killing them, and I wish in my heart that were the case,’ he said, ‘but the fact is, there’s no way.’” [1]

Tuesday night, it was more of the same. “My love of dogs and cats comes from a long history of taking in the abandoned pets at my father’s [veterinary] clinic,” explained Aycock, “and that is how I learned that homes don’t exist for every one. And that human beings are obligated to protect the ones that have no voice.”

That’s what Aycock thinks he’s doing by rounding up these cats, protecting them? There’s no doubt that the greatest threat to Pompano Beach’s outdoor cats has nothing to do with traffic, poison, or any of the other risks Aycock spoke of—not when coming into contact with the city’s animal control department is probably fatal.

And yet Aycock, who’s been an ACO for 25 years, insists he’s an advocate for the animals: “I’ve made dogs and cats my life’s work.” And seems genuinely puzzled when he says, as he did during his opening remarks Tuesday, “there’s been some confusion about who I am and what I’m about.”

He really seems to think it all makes sense—and that his better-off-dead philosophy is a reflection of his community’s values. As I say, the misinformation, scaremongering, and contradictory claims were all pretty easy to take compared to that.

* If the rambling 172-page report Aycock and his supervisor, Public Works Director Rob McCaughan, prepared for this meeting (PDF) is any indication, they had more than a little help from the American Bird Conservancy—which warned that the TNR-friendly proposal (developed by the Citizens Advisory Committee on Community Cats in Pompano Beach and Alley Cat Allies; see pp. 39­–53 of the PDF) being considered by Pompano Beach would have the city “overrun with feral cats.”

Literature Cited

1. Wallman, B., Cats face death sentence at county shelter, in Sun Sentinel. 2012: Fort Lauderdale. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-07-08/news/fl-cats-overrun-broward-20120702_1_feral-cats-stray-cat-community-cats