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Los Angeles Citywide Feral Cat-Trap/Neuter/Release Plan: A 'Fix' or a Fraud?

ANIMAL WATCH-On August 29, LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette announced the release of a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared by the City which would require taxpayers  to fund spays/neuters of 20,000 feral cats annually for ten years (about $2,000,000 at today's estimate of $100 per surgery) and release the cats citywide.

The City's conclusion is that there will be no negative environmental effect from the cats in local neighborhoods. 

The report does not indicate exactly how this well-funded City study determined that the City's feral cat population has suddenly dropped from the initial estimated 1 million or 3 million feral cats in the City to the exact number of 226,000, which is approximately one feral cat per acre. 

Or, is that the real purpose of the report--to set a precedent where an amount can be projected each year to cover further inestimable, rising costs? 

The reason spay/neuter funds have been carefully restricted to owned/pet dogs and cats (now rabbits included) is so that there can be accurate accounting. Feral cats are not owned; therefore, should anyone wish to be unethical, one "grey cat" in a feral colony could be reported as the recipient of sterilization services several times, and there is no way to trace it. 

LA TAXPAYERS WHO WILL FOOT THIS BILL DESERVE THE WHOLE TRUTH 

The taxpaying public (which is everyone) in Los Angeles needs to know that LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette and Councilman Paul Koretz have refused to require microchipping and/or licensing of cats in the City, so that ownership would become a serious and personal responsibility.  

 The EIR will increase the number of allowed cats per residence to five, with no ability for the City to realistically enforce this. 

When Koretz’ representative discussed the City's "no kill" achievement with KABC in 2017, he stated, “We enacted several policies that will get us there. It’s not going to happen overnight but we increased funding to spay and neuter, that was a big part of it.” 

What he didn’t say, or may not have known, was that as of March 31, 2016, LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette had an unspent balance of $5,004,395.66 in the Animal Services Pet Sterilization Trust Fund and had to be instructed by the Commission to increase her spay/neuter efforts. 

Barnette admitted that an additional 2016-2017 annual contribution by the Council was cancelled because of her high reserve.  

Used in intense campaigns for spay/neuter in low-income communities (and emphasizing cats), that amount could have made a major impact on the number of feral/stray -- previously owned -- cats in the City now. 

HERE'S WHAT THE EIR PROMISES 

"Upon selection of service providers, LAAS will issue a notice to proceed with funding authorization for at least 20,000 free-roaming cat sterilizations and related medical treatments (based on availability of additional funding) annually."  

Here is what the City "claims" will happen with numbers over the first 10 years for (estimated) $2 million: 

The number will decrease from 226,970 to 214,173. 

It does not address how does this small reduction will affect the continued reproduction in the over 200,000 (or up to 3 million depending upon whose figures you believe) other unaltered feral cats in the city of Los Angeles? 

EIR IGNORES MANDATORY SPAY/NEUTER ENFORCEMENT FOR OWNED CATS 

The long-awaited and costly EIR has no accompanying recommendation or plan to enforce the City's mandatory spay/neuter law for cats, which address the source of the problem rather than the symptoms and safeguards public and animal health and safety. Cats can produce numerous litters per year and are not limited by "heat" periods as are dogs. 

The rejection by Barnette and Koretz of requiring microchipping and/or licensing of cats to ensure responsibility by owners means the problem can continue both from reproduction of the remaining feral cats and new pet cats put outdoors and forgotten, lost or abandoned.   

The "No Kill" claim by Best Friends Animal Society and City officials also makes it easier for people to abandon unwanted cats. 

DO WE REALLY NEED THIS PROGRAM?  

The number of feral cats has been reduced by several factors that have nothing to do with the City:   

Coyotes have found feral cat colonies and other free-roaming cats and made them an important part of their diet.  

Development has created more apartment units where cats cannot easily go outdoors and become lost and where spay/neuter is mandated. It also has closed the crawl holes under buildings where stray and feral collected, as entire communities are remodeled. 

Trash cans are now required to be covered and apartment trash receptacles are not open and available to cats. 

And, the current generation, which considers pets as "family members" is more conscientious about spay/neuter. 

HOW MANY FERAL CATS ARE IN THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES? 

In 2012, Found Animals Foundation provided a complex multi-dimensional look at the populations and determined: 

“Feral” Cat Population Estimates Based on PetSmart Charities Grant Guidelines:

Total LA County "Feral" Cats count was somewhere between 654,000 (low) and 1,635,000 (high). 

Mark Dodge of Best Friends Cat nippers told the Los Angeles Times on July 1, 2007, that in the last eight years his organization has neutered 12,000 feral cats. But it will take more than that to eliminate the population of unwanted kittens. “There are 1 million homeless cats in the city of Los Angeles,” Dodge said. “You need to sterilize 70% in order to get a zero population growth.” 

Los Angeles Has Three MILLION Feral Cats: What Can We Do, Cattime asks“Los Angeles has a serious feral cat issue. The city has at least three million feral cats roaming around ... " 

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION OR A MONEY GRAB? 

How did the City's EIR Specialist reduce the urgent number of unowned, unsocialized cats in the streets from an estimate of 3 million to an exact figure of 226,000? The City is certainly entitled to its own opinions, but does it get to make up its own facts? Is this an issue of an initial outlay of approximately $2 million from tax funds -- and then add-ons later? 

Who will arrange to trap, transport and release (dump) 20,000 feral cats? And, which spay/neuter clinics will benefit? Most veterinarians will not do surgeries on feral cats because of the high probability of transmissible disease and the danger to the staff in handling a wild animal. 

WHEN CAN TNR WORK? 

TNR, alone, can only work effectively in small, controlled communities, where a 70% rate of altered animals (including at least that percentage of females) can be maintained. That will allow the attrition rate to equal the reproduction rate and remain stable or decrease. This also requires strict regulation and enforcement which addresses any cat being allowed outdoors if unaltered.  

WHO DOES SPAY/NEUTERS FOR FERAL CATS? 

Although there may be more, these seem to be the leading spay/neuter clinics in LA and their latest reported income: 

Best Friends FixNation's mission is to reduce the population of homeless cats by sterilizing ...

GROSS RECEIPTS" $1,425,125   ASSETS $724,241 

HEAVEN ON EARTH SOCIETY FOR ANIMALS INC (Perry's Place) 

Working as a partner of FixNation, our SpayShip Program offers free transportation services ...

GROSS RECEIPTS:  $1,222,006   ASSETS $1,382,785.  

THE INJUNCTION 

In 2008, the Urban Wildlands Group and five other conservation organizations sued the city. They argued that the city was surreptitiously implementing elements of the TNR policy without doing an environmental review that officials had previously promised of the adverse impact on wildlife and humans. LA’s Superior Court issued an injunction preventing the city from doing anything related to TNR until that review is conducted. 

General Brenda Barnette claims the former Feral Cat Program can now be "reinstated," but that is incorrect. It was never approved by the Council. Former director Ed Boks began using funds from the Animal Sterilization Fund reserved for ONLY owned pets. 

ED BOKS' ‘FELIX’ PROGRAM  

During Ed Boks' tenure as LAAS General Manager (2006-09) the Animal Sterilization trust account was unlawfully used for thousands of feral (wild/stray/unsocialized) cats under a program he called, FELIX. The massive drain on the Fund caused LA Animal Services to run out of allotted vouchers to subsidize spay/neuter of owned pets -- two weeks into the month. It was also discovered that, in some cases, more than one voucher was used per feral cat, and there were other accounting issues. The Council called for the Controller to do an in-depth audit and determine why there was a failure of outreach to low-income families. 

Remember, the expenditure on feral cats cannot be accurately audited because they are trapped, neutered and released, and there are no traceable owners.  

Council members who founded these trust funds wisely realized they had to keep unrestricted access out of the hands of ambitious city managers and greedy politicians and avoid any method by which donations could end up in the City's coffers, but the EIR would remove those safeguards. 

TNR ADVOCATES CLAIMS ABOUT REMOVING FERAL CATS 

Possibly the number one questionable claim of TNR is that if you remove the cats and humanely euthanize them, more fill in the gap. If that is true, then TNR will cause the same outcome, because Nature will sense the lack of procreation and cause the unaltered feral cats attracted to the colonies food source to produce at a greater rate. (Trapping individual cats is difficult in this environment.) 

Some experts state that the absence of food is the only thing that results in fewer kittens being produced, but the food supply will be plentiful throughout the city under the EIR. 

It will also be available to other species, including coyotes, who will be attracted to the food and the cats, themselves, as dinner.  

LEADING VETERINARY EXPERTS TALK ABOUT OUTDOOR CATS, TNR AND RABIES 

Although TNR cats are given an initial rabies shot when altered, it is almost impossible to re-trap a cat and, once in a colony, it is even difficult to positively identify them.  There is additional disease danger because other cats are attracted to the food supply (along with mice, rats, skunks, raccoons and coyotes.) 

In an August 14, 2017 Vetted article, “Who's still worried about rabies?” Jenifer Chatfield, DVM, DACZM, who has owned two emergency clinics, is a Staff Veterinarian at 4J Conservation Center, an instructor for FEMA/DHS, and a Regional Commander for the National Disaster Medicine System Team, discusses, "The rise of the rabid cats," advising that "cats are now the most reported rabid domestic animal." She explains: 

Cats were reported rabid four times more than dogs in recent years. . .The cause is likely multifactorial.  Cats aren't routinely seen by veterinarians for preventive care . . . An oft ignored, but increasingly more significant variable in the rise of felines in the rabies world is support for allowing large populations of stray cats to persist in urban areas. In an incredible show of “rabies amnesia,” some municipalities allow or encourage feeding of stray cats to support the populations. 

Many stray cat populations are maintained by charity groups or individuals at surprisingly significant financial cost. Such stray cats are trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies and then subsequently re-abandoned postoperatively. Setting aside the welfare implications of such treatment, these “TNR” programs do not effectively prevent or control rabies in these stray cat populations as originally posited. 

Dr. Chatfield encourages veterinarians to educate on the risk of allowing pets (including cats!) to roam freely. Even one outdoor adventure can be life-threatening for many reasons, including an encounter with a rabid animal, she says. 

In Los Angeles the most likely source would be a rabid bat, which has fallen to the ground and become a target for play for cats. Rabid bats were formerly limited to the northern part of the County, but that has changed. 

So far in 2019, 28 rabid bats have been positively identified by LA County Public Health Department: 1 at a school, 1 at a public park, 21 outside homes, (including 2 apartment buildings). The others were found inside and outside businesses--all places where a feral cat colony could be located or adjacent.  

Here are a few of the locations listed where a rabid bat was found dead or alive from January - July 2019:  Los Angeles/ Hollywood, Los Angeles/West Hills, Los Angeles/Tarzana, Porter Ranch, Glendale, Chatsworth,  Los Angeles/90021; Glendora, Monrovia, Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Sylmar, Studio City. 

In 2013, a Northern CA girl was the first to survive rabies by being placed in a coma for months. She had contracted the disease from a rabid cat, which the owner allowed outdoors. 

Here is the position of the California Veterinary Medical Association: 

CVMA Policy On Free-Roaming, Abandoned, and Feral Cats  ...The CVMA encourages and supports actions to eliminate the problem of free-roaming abandoned and feral cats. As a result of irresponsible societal attitudes, millions of these cats exist in the United States. Unfortunately, most of these cats will suffer premature mortality from disease, starvation, or trauma. Their suffering is of sufficient magnitude that it constitutes a national tragedy of epidemic proportions. These free-roaming abandoned and feral cats also represent a significant factor in the mortality of hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. This population of cats also poses a zoonotic disease risk for the public. 

A Case of Letting the Cat out of The Bag—Why Trap-Neuter-Return Is Not an Ethical Solution for Stray Cat (Felis catus) ManagementHeather M. Crawford, Michael C. Calver, Patricia A. Fleming (April 2019) states in its Summary: 

"We review TNR literature that report empirical data to assess whether TNR resolves problems caused by stray cats and whether cats released under TNR would have a good quality of life. We identify ten ethical and welfare challenges that any cat control program must consider, particularly if cats are to be returned to urban environments. Simply, the weight of these data indicate that TNR cat management is unlikely to solve the problems in most cases and is unethical on animal welfare grounds. We argue instead for a holistic approach to reducing cat numbers using targeted adoption, early-age desexing and community education initiatives. 

PEOPLE AND FERAL CATS EXPOSED TO DISEASE 

TNR'd cats can spread disease, the most common of which is toxoplasmosis, the "mind-control" parasite which moves commonly from cats to humans through contact with cat feces. 

"According to Live Science, "And while the parasite typically only causes mild infection (people may have flulike symptoms), While it is believed that exposure to Toxo may be one of the reasons "cat ladies" are attracted to cats, in people with weakened immune systems, infections can cause serious problems, from seizures to severe lung problems." 

L.A'S ENVIRONMENTAL SPECIALIST'S FINDINGS ARE NO SURPRISE 

On April 11, 2017, the Commission, GM Barnette and a room populated with representatives from various city departments, including the offices of the Mayor and City Attorney, were there to discuss feral cats and a proposed city-funded TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) program to allow free-roaming, unowned, unsocialized cats to be released into neighborhoods citywide. 

This plan hinged on the successful results of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s tax-funded $800,000 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) by the City’s Bureau of Engineering, showing that a Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) program that results in tons of cat feces and urine excreted on streets and yards of residential areas; the spread of parasites and diseases such as toxoplasmosis; and rampant destruction of birds and other small mammals by colonized cats all over the city will not have a negative impact on communities. 

Has this Environmental Impact Report fulfilled that obligation? Is it a “fix" or possibly a fraud? (Read here

 

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of Los Angeles employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.