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Feral Cats Act draws a crowd

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Bridget Doyle

More than five years after passing the Managed Care of Feral Cats Act, Cook County officials said Tuesday that the program has effectively reduced the feral cat population, preventing the birth of 336,000 cats and saving county municipalities thousands of dollars.

About 12,000 cats have been spayed or neutered and vaccinated under the county's privately funded trap-neuter-release program since 2007, said Donna Alexander, director of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control.

The volunteer-run program calls for humanely trapping the cats, taking them to a veterinarian to be microchipped, vaccinated and spayed or neutered, and eventually releasing the animals back to their outdoor colony. The feral cat colonies are managed through animal advocacy groups such as PAWS Chicago, The Anti-Cruelty Society, Tree House Humane Society and others.

Before the act was passed, municipalities were capturing and euthanizing feral cats at about $245 per cat, Alexander said, resulting in costs to county municipalities of about $122,500 per year.

During an open public hearing Tuesday afternoon, Alexander and leaders from animal advocacy groups presented an update on the county's program to the Legislation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee of the Cook County Board.

More than 100 cat advocates attended the hearing.

A recent report published by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service said domestic cats in the U.S. kill about 2.4 million birds and 12.3 million mammals per year. The report and subsequent coverage by news outlets sparked an uproar among bird and cat advocates.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who led the hearing, said he has received more than 500 emails in the past few weeks — with a large majority coming from cat supporters.

Suffredin said widely spread misinformation was to blame for firing up many cat advocates.

Before presentations and discussion on the topic, Suffredin made clear that the board was not considering amendments or taking action on the issue — it was revisiting the topic for an update and further discussion.

More than 20 cat advocates spoke to the packed board room in favor of the standing ordinance and urged the board to review data presented by Cook County rather than the study published earlier this year.

Chris Wilson, a resident of Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, said he and a friend work with Tree House to manage a handful of feral cat colonies on the city's North Side.

Wilson said the county's standing ordinance allows cat lovers to protect the animals from abuse, neglect and death. Wilson, donning a cat T-shirt that read "Feral and proud of it," said the 2007 ordinance was a forward movement in controlling and decreasing the feral cat population.

Pilsen resident Yvette Pina said she has helped trap, neuter and release more than 200 cats in her West Side neighborhood and pays to feed the feral colonies she manages out of her own pocket. "It's the way I help take care of my community," Pina said. "I help where I can — and that's with the cats."

A handful of bird advocates also took to the microphone, asking commissioners to consider alternative ways to control the feral cat population that would help protect bird species in Cook County.

Donnie Dann with Chicago Wilderness said he believed feral cats, which are not native to the United States, are "introduced alien predators" and shouldn't be allowed to roam wild and decrease bird populations.

"This (Smithsonian and Fish and Wildlife Service) study mentioned settles the arguments of whether cats impact wildlife," Dann said. "(Trap-neuter-release) has not been a successful method for control."

Suffredin said a report of information shared at the meeting would be compiled and used for further discussion on the topic.

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