Florida Community Cat Act clears first hurdle in style

The Florida State House of Representatives Agriculture and Community Affairs Subcommittee recently passed the Florida Community Cat Act (Florida House Bill 1121) out of committee by a unanimous 14-0 vote. The bill was authored by Best Friends’ cat initiatives legislative attorney Laura Nirenberg and is widely supported by other animal welfare organizations and the Florida Ag Subcommittee. FYI, state agricultural committees tend to be very conservative on animal issues as they are inclined to view legislation through the lens of their constituent farmers' and livestock operators’ interests. So, clearance of the Community Cat Act through that committee by a unanimous vote is a fair measure of the bill’s moderate and reasonable character.

The Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA), however, has recently come out in opposition to this sensible measure, citing a series of reasons that suggest that they either didn’t actually read the bill or that there is another reason for their opposition about which they’d rather not speak. More on that in a second, but first I want to refer you to Laura Nirenberg’s point-by-point refutation of the FVMA’s stated objections, which can be viewed here.

Veterinarians are animal welfare’s most important partners. Every successful TNR program depends on the generous, and often self-sacrificing, participation of veterinarians who provide reasonable services, extend credit, and go above and beyond the call to help rescues and TNR operations in saving lives. Best Friends could never have gotten started without veterinary partners who were committed to the cause. It is not unusual, however, to find that state veterinary medical associations are often at odds with the best of its membership and the first to oppose progressive programs that include reduced-cost spay/neuter services as a key component, which of course, effective high-volume TNR efforts do. This is not one of the reasons cited by the FVMA in opposing the Community Cat Act, but when explanations fail to explain and rationales are not rational, as is clearly laid out in Laura Nirenberg’s analysis, then the most logical explanation can usually be found by following the money.

In truth, the Florida Community Cat Act is permissive, not prescriptive. It allows but does not order the practice of TNR. The bill also reinforces the fact that feral cats are domestic animals and stipulates that returning a spayed/neutered cat to its colony is not animal abandonment. The act allows local municipalities to utilize TNR as a community cat management strategy, but does not require or in any way mandate that they implement that option. Neither does this measure infringe on state or federal agencies’ ability to manage animal populations nor does it trump private property rights.

The Florida Community Cat Act is a good piece of legislation that creates a legal framework for a widespread practice that is already in effect throughout the state. TNR is being adopted because it works and the public supports it. We will keep you posted on the bill's progress and any future calls to action.