Here in Flagler we have places where community cats are alive and thriving. Many of these cats are still alive because of the hard work of many dedicated volunteers and community organizations practicing trap-neuter-return (or TNR) policies to end the killing of these animals. Community cats have been living with humans for over 10,000 years, play an important part in our local ecosystems and TNR is the most humane, compassionate and effective approach to managing their populations.

Cats have been a part of our natural environment beginning between 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent and they followed humans to Europe and the Americas. They did not come into our homes or viewed as household pets till 60 years ago with the growing availability of canned pet foods, cat litter and spay and neuter techniques.

Community cats are the same animals as the pet cats that live in our homes, but are typically wary of humans, are content to live outdoors and are not socialized to people. They are virtually unadoptable if brought to a shelter, are content to live their lives in the outdoors and studies have shown they are just as healthy as our pet cats that live in our homes.

Removing cats from local ecosystems can be a major risk and their part in the natural environment is much more complicate than predator vs. prey. A significant consequence of cat eradication happened on Macquarie Island in the Pacific Ocean where the rabbit populations spiked wildly once cats were removed. Local vegetation was devastated by a rabbit feeding frenzy, other species were threatened by the loss of food and habitat with cats to keep the rabbits in check.

Many have tried to make the argument that eliminating cats will save wildlife, but cats are mainly scavengers that feed on garbage and scraps. They prefer rodents and other burrowing animals if they do hunt. Scientists have also shone in mathematical models that when cats, rats and birds coexist, they find a balance. Rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely when cats are removed.

Many other scientific studies have shown TNR to be the most humane and effective approach to managing community cats. It ends the strains of mating behavior and pregnancy and the cats gain weight and become healthier. Long-term studies have shown that sterilizing community cats reduces colony size over time. One study found a 66 percent decrease in one colony’s population over 11 years and another 10-year study showed colony size decreases of up to 32 percent.

Flagler Humane Society is doing its part to help control the community cat population as well. It was recently awarded a grant from Florida Animal Friend for free spay or neuter surgery of unowned, community cats in all areas of Flagler County. The cats are required to receive a rabies vaccine for $6 and their left ear will be notched to identify them as sterilized. Palm Coast Animal control, Flagler Animal Services and many other community groups can assist you with trapping cats if you have them on your property.

TNR is the most humane and effective solution to solving the community cat dilemma. It keeps the cats alive, helps keep the natural environment in balance and helps to actually reduce the overall cat population. These cats have been a part of human history for so long that it is now up to us to make sure they are cared for, maintained and most importantly kept alive.