lake helen ear tip cat program
CHECK MEOW-T — Cats that have been trapped, sterilized and released display the telltale sign of a clipped ear. This universal sign lets people know visually whether a cat in their community has been fixed or not, without having to handle a feral cat. PHOTO COURTESY VOLUSIA COUNTY

After four long years of effort, Lake Helen finally has a formalized trap neuter release (TNR) program for its feral-cat population.

The county has been selling the TNR plan to cities and, so far, 12 of Volusia County’s 16 municipalities have signed up or are considering joining up.

In Lake Helen, the idea was originally brought to the City Commission in 2018 by George Taylor, at the time a middle-schooler. However, the idea of a TNR program was punted by a combination of packed City Commission agendas, intragovernmental strife, and, ultimately, COVID-19.

Former City Commissioner Kelly Frasca took up the cause again recently and, eventually, a formal agreement was signed with Volusia County in October 2021.

At a March 30 information session attended by Lake Helen residents and Volusia County Animal Services Director Adam Leath, the terms of the interlocal agreement were explained.

Animal Services will neuter any of Lake Helen’s “community cats” and also will provide low-cost care services for residents’ personal pets, in addition to covering criminal investigations involving animals. The county will also provide animal search-and-rescue and pet sheltering during natural disasters.

For the TNR program, it’s up to the cities to decide whether the city or a resident will pay the cost of spaying a feral cat. Lake Helen hasn’t decided yet.

The fee, proposed at $45, has yet to be approved by the Volusia County Council, which Leath estimated will happen by fall.

“There are 5,600 animals taken to a shelter every year in the county,” Leath said. “It’s between $88 and $100 for a three-day stay, which is roughly $500,000 a year.”

A more cost-effective solution, Leath said, is the trap neuter release program, where, in cooperation with the Lake Helen Police Department, which has traps on hand to loan, residents would trap feral cats and transport them to the Animal Services clinic at 1250 Indian Lake Road in Daytona Beach.

County veterinarians would then sterilize the cats to be released back into the city by the residents.

An informal volunteer effort had already been underway in Lake Helen, a small community with swaths of undeveloped land and small farms, and it’s made a big difference.

“I’ve seen a significant decrease in the last year,” Lake Helen Police Chief Robert Mullins said.

According to Mullins, the Police Department has also been battling the numbers of feral cats — but catching and transporting them is time-consuming.

“It can take an officer off the road for a large amount of time,” Mullins said.

He cautioned the group of volunteers, about a dozen in all, to make sure to get the property owner’s permission before setting a trap.

“There are people who do not like the TNR program, who will destroy or steal the trap,” Mullins said.

Mullins had more advice regarding a trapped cat: “Check its ears to make sure it’s not neutered, because I’ve made that mistake before.”

Once feral cats are neutered or spayed, their ears are clipped to signify that they’ve already been sterilized.

And, Mullins added, releasing the cat within a mile of where it’s found is probably fine.

“I’ve had a cat jump out of the truck near the Volusia County Fairgrounds — it was back in the trap on Kicklighter later that day,” Mullins said. That’s a distance of about five miles.

Other interesting facts:

  • Animal Services has provided microchip scanners to every fire department in the county, and all main lifeguard stations.
  • Volusia County Animal Services uses Lake Helen to store the only large-animal rescue equipment in the county. About a half-a-dozen large animals, such as horses and mules, are rescued by Animal Services each year, Leath said.
  • Pets microchipped by the county include the usual cats and dogs, but also, Volusia County Animal Services Director Adam Leath said, rabbits, tortoises, iguanas, snakes and horses. “We can microchip anything,” Leath said.
  • In March, Volusia County Animal Services was named Outstanding Agency of the Year by the Florida Animal Control Association.

Pierson to participate in TNR program, too

The Town of Pierson also signaled its intent to participate in Volusia County’s trap, neuter and release program at its regular Town Council meeting March 22.

Of course, not without some back-and-forth, specifically about how to maximize the number of cats brought for spaying and neutering at once to save on costs.

“It would be cheaper to feed a cat for a week, than for one of our employees to go sit over at the damn Humane Society all day long,” Vice Mayor Robert F. Greenlund said. “Get 10 cats, feed 10 cats for a week or two, you could probably do that for way less than you’d have to pay an employee to go there and back … ”

Without a place to house 10 cats, though, Town Council Member D. Gray Leonhard pointed out it may be easier to strategically set traps to coincide with days the town sends cats to the Humane Society.

Stray cats brought to the Humane Society must be delivered in an animal trap, with the name of the cat on the trap, Pierson Town Clerk Carmen Spelorzi noted.

“How are we going to know the name of the cat?” Greenlund asked. His question was met with laughs from the meeting’s audience.

Leonhard said he may be able to help out with the costs — $44 per cat spayed or neutered.

“$44 per cat is a lot of money,” Leonhard said. “I could actually take care of neutering a male cat with a little assistance. I’ve actually done that in the past, but not a female.”

Despite the concerns for cost, the Town Council unanimously accepted the county’s schedule for TNR services and made plans to start bringing cats in.

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