The stray and feral cats that have overrun a middle American town can meow a little louder now that they have gotten a reprieve from a bounty the mayor had put on their whiskers -- a bounty he says he initiated to address the community's rampant cat problem.
Luckily for the cats, animal rights activists immediately bared their claws when they learned of Randolph, Iowa's $5-per-cat program under which stray cats turned in for bounty would be killed if not claimed within seven days.
"The idea of a bounty was completely inhumane," said Elizabeth Parowski of Alley Cat Allies, a Maryland-based animal protection agency. "We called the mayor, the sheriff and the state veterinarian," she said.
Another group, Best Friends Animal Society based in Utah, sent a representative to reason with the town's local government. Best Friends representative Shelly Kotter found an acute problem of stray and feral cats.
"There were cats mating right in the middle of town. There were cats everywhere," Kotter said.
Mayor Vance Trively said he was trying to do the right thing and address his town's cat problem in a humane way. "People were threatening to shoot the cats, even poison the cats," he said.
Two cats were turned in to the program, which was in effect for about two weeks. One died the night it was turned in at the mayor's house. Trively said there was blood in the cat's stool and suspects it was poisoned. The other, a white pregnant female, was adopted.
Local law enforcement agents were concerned the bounty posed serious public safety issues. "Kids could get hurt trying to catch cats. Feral cats can be dangerous," said Fremont County Sheriff Steven MacDonald, adding that he worried people would catch house cats and take off their collars to get the bounty.
On March 20, Trively signed a trap-neuter-return (TNR) resolution that took effect immediately. Best Friends is spearheading the project, sending volunteers to trap the cats and bring them to veterinarians. The organization estimates there is $10,000 worth of neutering and spaying that needs to be done that will be paid for with donations.
Experts estimate there are 50 million stray cats in communities across the nation. The number is based on studies of households that admit to feeding cats they do not own, according to Julie Levy of the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine that conducts the studies.
Levy said the traditional "trap and kill" method of addressing communities' stray cat problems does not work because cats reproduce so effectively. "You just cannot catch every cat," said Levy.
Animal rights advocacy groups across the country are promoting the trap-neuter-return system that Randolph is undertaking.
Alley Cat Allies said communities like Randolph should jump on the bandwagon. "Government agencies are now incorporating spay/neuter services across the country," said Parowski. "The public is not supportive of mass killing of cats."