Information on proposed feral cat program

Cats!  I would have to agree with fellow Councilman Cale Magruder that the subject of cats, in particular feral cats, has become an emotional issue in Augusta.  But why?  The notion that Augustans would take pleasure or satisfaction in knowing that animals in Augusta are routinely killed because they had the misfortune to be without a human owner is not one I find appealing.  Perhaps those decrying the very thought of a discussion regarding feral cats are simply uninformed or misinformed.  With that thought in mind I feel compelled to try and explain why I believe it is appropriate for the Augusta City Council to consider this subject.
Feral cats are not the same as a stray cat (one which has been lost or unceremoniously dumped by its previous owner).  Feral cats are cats not socialized to humans - try petting one (that won't happen).  Cats have lived on their own and as part of the natural environment for centuries.  However, as towns and cities have grown, somewhere along the way people decided these creatures would be better off dead than allowed to live outdoors alongside humans.  As a consequence, countless communities have adopted ordinances to round up feral cats, take them to shelters and, because they are not "adoptable," kill them.  Augusta is one of those communities.
What citizens don't realize is constant killing does not solve the "problem."  The "problem" is not the cats themselves, it is the over population that becomes the issue.  The solution many other communities (e.g., Topeka, Pratt, Sedgwick in Kansas, New York City, San Jose, California, and Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, Texas), have successfully adopted is the policy of "trap/neuter/return" or "TNR".  The feral cats are trapped humanely, evaluated and sterilized by a veterinarian, vaccinated against rabies, permanently marked by notching an ear, and returned to their original location.  By spaying or neutering our feral cats, the population will stabilize and begin to decline.  Advantages to this practice include (aside from the obvious that the cats are still alive):
• TNR promotes a healthier community by reducing the number of unvaccinated animals roaming free.
• TNR improves the lives of the cats themselves. Neutered males no longer fight over mates and the behavior exhibited during mating is reduced, if not eliminated, thus reducing nuisance complaints. Spayed females can no longer have litter after litter of kittens - harmful to both the mother and the babies.
• TNR reduces the overall cost to the community by reducing shelter costs.  In addition, grants are available to communities to support TNR and the care and feeding of feral cat colonies.
 So how does this affect Augusta?
Since so many Viewpoint comments have complained about not wanting tax dollars to be used for feral cats, it is important that citizens know they are already paying for feral cats.  The City of Augusta has a long standing contract with the Augusta Animal Clinic to act as the City's animal shelter.  When a feral cat is trapped by Augusta Animal Control it is immediately taken the clinic.  It is provided three days of care and then killed.  So, Augustans are paying for those three days of care and for the killing.  Wouldn't it be better to use those funds for sterilization to begin to control the population?  I think so.  Currently, the yearly base contract with the Augusta Animal Clinic is $34,488.00 per year.  In the last two years (2013 and 2014) 351 animals without owners have passed through the clinic.  Of that number, 83% have been killed because they were either not claimed by an owner or were not adopted.  According to veterinarian and owner, Mike Cocke, the vast majority of that 83% were feral cats.  
In addition, citizens need to be aware that where there are colonies of feral cats there are no mice or rats.  As a downtown business owner, I have yet to see any evidence of either.  With food establishments in the downtown area, it is important that we continue to be free of mice and rats.  If we tried to eliminate every feral cat in the downtown area tomorrow not only would the vermin likely return, but over time new feral cats would move in to fill the void. Augustans should recognize that feral cats and feral cat colonies can serve a useful purpose in the community and trying to eradicate them will not be successful and may result in unintended consequences.  
What to do?
Change the Augusta City Ordinance on Animal Control to recognize feral cats and to allow for the implementation of a trap/neuter/return program.  Redirect  the funds already allocated in the Augusta City Budget from killing to the TNR program.  In addition, allow for the responsible care of feral cat colonies within Augusta by individuals who are interested in doing so.  Stop penalizing citizens who wish to feed and care for feral cats.  The lack of compassion is not, and should never be, good public policy!
If you are interested in learning more, please consider attending the March 2nd City Council meeting at City Hall.  The meeting begins at 7  p.m. and Sue Schamp, TNR Coordinator for Friends of Felines, will address the Governing Body.  Of course, feel free to contact me directly at 440-5904 or at sue@fairchildinteriors.com.   I hope this information has helped to clear up confusion and misinformation.

Sue Jones, Augusta City Council member, Ward 3