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Reducing the Feral Cat Population One Cat at a Time

Meow Now | Feral Cats | TNVR

By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter

Meow Now is the only group that Pinellas County officially recognizes to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return free-roaming cats to their colonies. The goal is to reduce, or eliminate, Pinellas’ community cat population.

PINELLAS COUNTY – It takes a lot of patience to trap one feral cat, not to mention almost 3,000 of them.

Yet that’s what the volunteers with Meow Now have done over the past two and a half years. They’ve trapped, vaccinated, neutered and returned thousands of feral, or free-roaming community cats, to their colonies. It’s a process known as TNVR.

The goal – reduce and, ultimately eliminate, the community cat population in Pinellas County. It’s not a goal that can be reached over night.

It seems illogical to think that you can eliminate the problem of free-roaming cats by returning them to their neighborhoods once you’ve taken them away. But, proponents say it’s the only way to successfully reduce and eliminate the population of wild cats.

“It does make a difference over time,” said Dan Hester, founder and treasurer of Meow Now. Meow Now is the only group that Pinellas County government officially recognizes and permits to practice TNVR.

That permission, granted about three years ago, was a test to see what impact, if any, TNVR might have in the county. Hester and others behind Meow Now had spent about 18 months convincing county officials that TNVR was worth trying.

The argument in favor of TNVR is this – simply remove the cats and you create a vacuum that other cats fill. Then, those other cats have kittens, which have kittens, and soon, there’s a feral cat problem again. Cats, according to vetinfo.com, can have up to three litters each year. Each litter has an average of three to five kittens. The numbers quickly add up.

But, if you sterilize enough cats in one area, you break the cycle of reproduction. And leaving the cats in place stabilizes the population. Over time, the cat colony simply dies out.

Dan Hester | Meow Now | TNVR

Dan Hester

It’s worked in other places, like the University of Florida campus. And, Hester said, it’s beginning to work in Pinellas County.

When it began, Meow Now targeted the unincorporated Lealman area because the majority of cats being turned into Pinellas Animal Control and other agencies were coming from there. Not only that, Lealman – that area generally between St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park – has a transient population and is a high poverty area. It also had a high number of complaints from people who were upset about the number of community cats that were hanging around.

“It wasn’t hard finding the cats,” Hester said. “You’d drive through and see them anywhere.”

The difficulty came in convincing property owners to allow the cats to come back once they’d been neutered and vaccinated. It was also hard convincing the people who were feeding them to trust that Meow Now would care for the cats and return them.

Now, after almost three years, Hester said, the number of complaints have dropped. And, the numbers of stray cats turned into Animal Services, SPCA Tampa Bay, and the Humane Society of Pinellas have dropped from 8,964 in 2012 to 6,684 in 2016.

Hester agreed it’s hard to tell how much of that decrease is attributable to the TNVR program, but it’s indicative, he said, that something’s working.

“We think we’re making a positive impact as we reach the end of our third year,” Hester said.

This third year is important. Pinellas County commissioners will decide sometime this year whether to allow Meow Now to continue or to call a halt to the experiment. Meow Now’s authorization sunsets Dec. 31.

Although Meow Now has been successful in cutting down some of the community cat population, Hester said, it’s been less successful in raising money for its mission. (No public funds go to the group.) Funding so far has come out of the pockets of Hester and others on the board and from grants from places like Petsmart.

“We need more support from the public,” Hester said. “If we don’t have public support, we’re out of business.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that TNVR doesn’t have cute little kittens looking soulfully for new homes. Although the group does foster some kittens rather than returning them to the colony, the majority of cats and kittens are wild and not suitable for home life.

Also, he said, the group’s success is less obvious – fewer cats running free. These are cats no one pays attention to unless they become a nuisance.

“It’s an awareness situation,” Hester said. “We are the only grass-roots organization that is addressing the problem from where it begins – with these free roaming cats,” Hester said.

For information about Meow Now and TNVR, go to meownowfl.org.

Photo of Dan Hester courtesy of Meow Now. Other photos by Anne Lindberg, TB Reporter.

Meow Now | TNVR | Feral Cats | Community Cats | Free Roaming Cats | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

Meow Now | TNVR | Feral Cats | Community Cats | Free Roaming Cats | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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Reducing the Feral Cat Population One Cat at a Time
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Reducing the Feral Cat Population One Cat at a Time
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Meow Now is the only group that Pinellas County officially recognizes to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return free-roaming cats to their colonies. The goal is to reduce, or eliminate, Pinellas' community cat population.
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