League City halts feral cat program after questions from volunteers

League City halts feral cat program after questions from volunteers

League City officials have halted their trap, neuter and return program amid criticism by residents and animal shelter volunteers who said the program was releasing adoptable cats back into the wild.

Mayor Nick Long said the city is reevaluating how it carries out an ordinance put in place to manage the city’s feral cat population and overpopulation. 

“It seems like maybe the policy was not implemented correctly or maybe there could be improvements, and I think we’re all open to that,” Long said. 

The city’s decision comes after a heated city council meeting on Tuesday in which volunteers and former volunteers of the League City Animal Care Center called for changes to the trap, neuter, return protocols, and for the ousting of the facility’s director. 

The volunteers told the council they watched the shelter capture, spay and neuter stray and community cats only to return them to the wild without the chance of being adopted. They called on the city to investigate the policies and decisions of League City Animal Care and Adoption Center Executive Director Jasmine O’Keefe and called for her to be fired. 

O’Keefe, via the city’s communications office, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Long said O’Keefe is a city employee and should be given the “benefit of the doubt.” He said critics of the program are the same people who asked for it in the first place, and O’Keefe has implemented the policy approved by city council.

“I’m willing to hear that maybe we didn’t put it in place right, that maybe there needs to be changes and improvements, but what I’m not willing to listen to are knee jerk reactions to fire city employees and blame them for everything,” Long said.

“These are adoptable cats, friendly cats… I am personally in distress of unknowingly sending some of these adoptable cats I rescued down the miserable path on the streets,” Nicole Anton, a former volunteer, said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Patty Rytlewski, another volunteer, said the shelter was using the city program to “dump cats back into the streets.” 

“With the exception of small kittens, the elderly and those in poor condition, they dump these animals back without verified feeders and without verified caretakers or support,” she said.

The process of capturing, sterilized and releasing feral cats who have had little or no human interaction and deemed unadoptable is a common practice at shelters and rescues to address their over-population in communities. But some critics, like veterinarian Tara Wineki, say the city’s system is flawed. 

“They’re twisting the meaning of trap, neuter, release,” said Wineki.

“TNR should be used for true feral cats with no hope of being adopted,” said Monica Millican, president of the non-profit League City Pets Alive. 

Sarah Osborne, the city’s spokesperson, said the city based its ordinance on guidelines set by animal care advocates and groups.

She said the main point of contention for many of those who spoke at the meeting is the distinction between feral and adoptable stray cats. The question of shelter space also plays into any efforts to control the cat population. 

Osborne said she knows from personal experience with stray cats that adoption isn’t always as easy as it may seem. 

“Just because a cat is friendly it does not make them adoptable,” she said. “They wander into your yard, and they let you pet them because you put out food, but that doesn’t mean a cat can be adopted and go into someone’s home and live.” 

Millican and Wineki aren’t opposed to the trap, neuter and release concept, but they say the shelter protocol fails to make any distinctions – whether the cats being captured and released are feral, stray, or house cats that may belong to an owner.

They said they are concerned that vulnerable animals without survival skills will be left to fend for themselves because of flawed execution. 

“I have spent most of my career in shelter medicine and high volume spay and neuter, and I have never heard of anything like this,” said Wineki. “When I found out, it just made me cry.” 

Long said the city’s halt to its TNR practice is an opportunity for open dialogue. 

“I don’t think anyone on council is an animal care expert, but we’re willing to make changes,” Long said. “We want a (TNR) policy to work, and we want to have a successful shelter.”

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