After hearing from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife, Tulare County Animal Control (TCAC) and the Visalia Feral Cat Coalition, the Parks Advisory Committee (PAC) decided to support the Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) Program. The committee, which advises on all 10 Tulare County Parks, met December 8 at the Government Plaza building.
Because the Tulare County Board of Supervisors was unable to resolve the feral cat issue in Mooney Grove, they requested that PAC do their research and come up with a solution. The commission had three options on the table from which to choose on how to handle the feral cats. Option one was TNR. Option two was using existing county policy. Option three was a hybrid of both. The PAC will make their recommendation to the board that TNR be adopted sometime next year, but it is ultimately up to the supervisors to accept the program.
The Visalia Feral Cat Coalition (VFCC) gave a 30-minute presentation during an earlier meeting, so the committee members were already well educated on their program. TNR vaccinates and sterilizes feral cats then returns them to their colony. Cats that are sick or infected with feline leukemia are euthanized. The result is a healthy colony of cats that keep other cats from joining. The bridge colony in Mooney Grove had 56 cats before a group of cat advocates fixed and vaccinated them on their own. The colony is now down to 15. The takeaway for the committee members was that this program is free, humane and greatly reduces the number of cats.
John Hess, Tulare County administrative analyst, was asked to research other organizations that had used TNR. He reported that both Stanford University and Disneyland use the TNR program and that it is working. He added that Stanford was highly supportive of the program and said that the students, athletes and staff were all for it.
The City of Los Angeles has had a rockier time putting TNR into place because they were sued by the Audubon Society. Feral cats are notorious for hunting songbirds and the Audubon Society believes responsible cat owners should keep their pets indoors and feral cats should be eliminated to protect wildlife. Los Angeles and the Audubon Society came to a compromise on where the feral cats can be released. It is unknown as of yet how successful the program has been in the city.
Option two is to keep the existing county policy, which is to trap the cats and take them to animal control where virtually all of them are euthanized. The current system costs the tax payers about $140 per cat and TCAC euthanizes hundreds of feral cats a year, though they do not separate which cats come from Mooney Grove. Neil Pilegard, Tulare County park and recreation manager has been a vanguard of this county policy. Several letters were submitted to the committee that expressed that it is inhumane to leave cats to survive in the wild. Others mentioned that the cats may carry diseases and they kill wildlife in Mooney Grove.
Finally, Mike Chrisman, chairman of the PACasked, “How long has the county used this policy?”
“Twenty-five years,” Pilegard replied.
“So your program is not working.” said Chrisman.
In the spirit of cooperation,Pilegard recommended that the PAC adopt option three. He introduced the manager of Tulare County Animal Control, Patrick Hamblin. Hamblin said that he was only informed of the debate the day before and didn’t have much to add.
TCAC had just started considering a barn program for feral cats but they were only in the discussion stage. As of now all feral cats are euthanized that come into TCAC unless they are kittens. Nanette Kuswa, DVM, owner of Companion Animal Medical Center, said that a barn program where feral cats can be relocated is a good idea, but such a program can only deal with dozens of cats. She said that Visalia has around 130,000 feral cats. Also, TCAC does not have a facility to house the feral cats while they wait for placement in a barn.She added that cats tend to return “home” after attempts to relocate.
Chrisman asked Hamblin several times, and in different ways, his opinion of TNR, but Hamblin refused to give it. Pilegard had invited him to speak on the barn program but Hamblin did not look pleased about being put in the middle of what had been a tense conversation.
For his second speaker, Pilegard introduced a biologist forUS Department of Fish and Game in Tulare County. The biologist presented a power point that was 20 years old and focused on the hazards of releasing cats into a wildlife habitat. The information in the power point was outdated and no longer true. The biologist apologized for the dated material and said that feral cats were very low on Fish and Wildlife’s list of priorities.
Committee member Carol Finney said that she had a great amount of uneasiness with option three and doesn’t see how it would work. Chrisman suggested that the committee move forward with option one and asked Hess to work out the legal details with his staff and VFCC.
Banning Smoking in County Parks
The next item on the agenda was a presentation on the proposed Health Advisory Committee’s ban on smoking in county parks. The same presentation was shown to the board of supervisors a few months ago but they voted 4-1 against it, with Supervisor Pete Vander Poel voting for the ban. The supervisors decided on creating smoking areas within the park and assigned the PAC to research the idea and come up with designated smoking areas.
The PAC agreed with the board that it was a bad idea to completely ban smoking in the park. A Tulare County Parks’ employee pointed out that when patrons pay to rent the arbors they expect to be able to smoke. She would have to advise patrons before they booked the arbor about the ban and the park would lose revenue. The PAC agreed that secondhand smoke was unhealthy but thata total ban was unenforceable. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Department and the Visalia Police Department said they would not have time to chase after smokers.
Carol Finney suggested that the parks put up signs requesting that patrons do not smoke, thus skipping the hassle and expense of creating a new ordinance. Not all PAC members were in favor of a ban so this was an acceptable compromise. It is already illegal to smoke within 25 feet of a building or a playground, so it was suggested that at Mooney Grove put the signs on the arbors and around the basketball hoops. Such signs could say, “Healthy lungs at work here” or “There is no level of exposure to smoke that is risk free.” Pilegard said signs that encourage no smoking, lets people do the enforcing and is what Visalia ultimately decided to do at their parks.
A Wild Goose Chase
In other business, it may be months before the new Mooney Grove well becomes functional because it hasn’t been put on Edison’s list to be hooked up to the grid. Concerning reducing the number of geese in the park, the product that makes bird eggs sterile is not longer legal in California.
The next PAC meeting is 3pm at the new Agriculture Museum in Mooney Grove. The public is invited to attend and comment during the meeting.