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What if someone is hurting the feral cats in my neighborhood?

Animal lovers often care for the neighborhood strays, despite not actually owning these animals. You or your neighbors may feed feral cats and stray dogs; but there are some people who find these strays to be a menace. Food tins being strewn about, water bowls left to become mosquito breeding grounds or a rapid increase in the animal population can come with consequences, such as other neighborhood pests and rodents. So, how do we address the problems that come with feral cats humanely.

The state of Florida provides for laws against animal cruelty which prevent any person from tormenting or depriving an animal of necessary sustenance or shelter, or unnecessarily mutilates, or kills any animal. This means if someone in your neighborhood is shooting the cats, which is an unfortunate reality that is far too common, they may be exposed to punishment by a fine.

The problem can be addressed legally and generationally, by catch and release programs which spay and/ or neuter the neighborhood cat population, slowly decreasing the number of kittens born each season. Several rescues, charities and some shelters provide these services, and many vets will provide pro-bono or low-bono spay or neuter programs. People can also trap the cats and bring them to a local shelter, wherein there are often volunteers and fosters who assist in rehoming or caring for cats (albeit there never seem to be enough to keep up with the population).

You may also be a proponent for keeping the cats in the neighborhood, and some neighborhood HOA’s or Associations do make this decision. Neighborhood Feral cats naturally control the rodent population without the utilization of pesticides. Many neighborhoods that consist of the elderly also care for animals communally, as there have been health benefits linked such as reduced anxiety and a sense of purpose.

Although some state and local governments have enacted laws attempting to resolve some of these issues, most states and municipalities do not have any laws governing the care and ownership of feral cats. Only thirteen states and the District of Columbia have any laws that even mention feral cats, and Florida is not among them. Drafting legislation to be introduced as proposed ordinances for your city is a great way to change this statistic.

Legally, in the state of Florida there is no penalty for feeding or caring for neighborhood feral cats, albeit this may create a duty if the care crosses into the definition of ‘ownership’. ‘Owners’ are often expected to vaccinate and spay and/or neuter their property, which pets are defined as.

However, harming animals or removing them using cruelty or killing/maiming the feral cats is against the law (see Fla. Stat.’s § 828.12 and § 828.13). If someone in your neighborhood is hurting animals or treating a nuisance problem without regard to the law, report them. Just remember that reporting a problem is only half of the issue; utilize the suggestions above to enact permanent change and assist your community in addressing the issues facing it when it comes to feral cats.

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