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The Perils of Ferals

by: Nancy M. Gerhardt, DVM

In the United States, there are an estimated seventy-seven million free-roaming cats. Approximately sixty five thousand of these cats live in Manatee County Florida alone. Manatee County ordinance has traditionally maintained that cats allowed outdoors must be under direct control of their owners. Few cat owners who permitted their cats outside cooperated with the leash law prescribed by the ordinances.

Due to the growing number of unneutered free-roaming cats, feral feline overpopulation has climbed to astronomical levels. Suffering and euthanasia became certainties for great numbers of these homeless cats. The population in this area has been worsened by pets simply being left behind by some seasonal residents or persons who are moving. These individuals expect their neighbors or the next tenant to take care of the cat which was likely adopted as a kitten and now cannot or is not considered part of the move. Also, the nearly year-round warm weather with little or no freezing prolongs the breeding season and inhibits natural selection by the birth and survival of more kittens than would be seen from the same animals in frigid climates. Given a humane alternative to trapping and euthanasia of these hapless animals which are certainly homeless "alley cats" through no fault of their own, citizens are willing and now able to get them spayed, neutered and vaccinated to immediately limit this problem and eventually prevent it from perpetuating.

Laws involving Florida cats being outdoors varies by county. In Manatee County, there is a new ordinance in effect. Certainly the purpose of the ordinance is not to encourage cat owners to let their beloved pets run free and be exposed to harm! It is not desirable to permit pet cats outdoors free-roaming due to the likelihood of dog attacks, fight wounds, communicable diseases and being struck by vehicles. The average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only three years in stark contrast to thirteen years for indoor cats. However, cats in Manatee County are now legally permitted outdoors under the following conditions:

  • They must be spayed or neutered.
  • They must all be current on their rabies vaccine and if owned have a valid county license.
  • If owned, they must wear a collar with their tag or else be microchipped for identification.
  • If they are not pets and are sterilized, vaccinated and ear-tipped through a licensed caregiver organization such as the Humane Society of Manatee.
  • Gulf Shore Animal League or Alley Cat Rescue pets may be exempt from licensing requirements.
  • They must remain on the caregiver's property.

Do you feed stray cats on your property? Help prevent "littering" by having these cats spayed and neutered. In Manatee County it's the law! If you need help with this in Manatee call one or the organizations mentioned above. In Sarasota County please contact Sarasota in Defense of Animals or the Animal Rescue Coalition. There may always be changes in sponsoring organizations. For general information and on the safety issues involved in dealing with cats that may be unhandleable, visit Alley Cat Allies, at www.alleycat.org. Put your safety first, especially when dealing with unfamiliar animals!