Sumter commissioners consider plan to trap feral cats and return them to the wild

Feral or wild cats in Sumter County could soon be trapped, spayed or neutered and then returned to their neighborhoods.

The county is studying a trap, spay/neuter and return program as a way to reduce the number of cats euthanized by animal services.

Jacksonville uses a similar program to trap feral or wild cats, spay or neuter them and return them to the area where they were found.

County Administrator Bradley Arnold told commissioners Tuesday night that the program is one of several changes planned for the animal services department.

Last month, more than 100 people from Lost Pets of The Villages asked the commissioners to change the county’s animal shelter to a no-kill shelter.

While commissioners did not endorse the concept, Arnold has been working to improve the animal services and reduce the number of those killed.

In July, 89 animals, including 38 dogs, 50 cats and an unspecified animal, were euthanized at the county shelter and 120 animals were transferred to the Sumter County Humane Society/SPCA for potential adoption.

In the new program, Arnold said the humane society has agreed to take care of returning the trapped cats to their neighborhoods.

Board Chairman Doug Gilpin said it makes sense to return the wild cats to their natural environment. He conceded the program may not be a short-term solution, but could help in the long run.

Commissioner Garry Breeden said the program might run into problems. He said someone who reports a nuisance cat to animal services might not want to have the animal returned to their doorstep.

Arnold said he also will adjust the process so more animals can be eligible for adoption. Photos will be taken of all animals brought to animal services except for those involved in law enforcement activity.

The process used by animal services staff members to determine if cats or dogs are adoptable also will become more transparent, he said.  Animals are not suitable for adoption if they are injured or have a bad temperament.

He said the county has added animal cages so some can have longer stays.

The county administrator said he also is looking at changing the facilities so cats brought to the county shelter can be separated from those housed there as a way to reduce the spread of cat respiratory infections.