Hernando County, Florida, is making lifesaving change for its cats and community. Alley Cat Allies was proud to be present on April 24, when the Hernando Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a countywide Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. The program will be run by Hernando County Animal Services in close partnership with PetLuv Non-Profit Spay & Neuter Clinic and the Humane Society of the Nature Coast (HSNC).
For James Terry, animal services manager, it’s been a long time coming. About 10 years ago, Hernando County Animal Services was killing most of the cats who entered its doors. The shelter has worked hard to improve its save rates and adoptions since then but struggled to care for the 1,500 cats coming into the shelter each year. When Terry became manager in June 2017 and learned about TNR from his staff veterinarian, Dr. Julie Rosenberg, he knew it was the best way forward.
“The county years ago was pretty much killing every cat in the shelter, yet year after year after year, things never got any better,” says Terry. “I quickly came to the conclusion that euthanizing cats was not solving anything. TNR was the answer.”
Terry connected with Richard Silvani, executive director of PetLuv, and Barbara Sprague, executive director of HSNC. They worked together to develop a TNR program blueprint and met with officials to push for its adoption. Silvani then asked Alley Cat Allies to come to Hernando to explain the benefits of TNR.
“I’ve been aware of Alley Cat Allies for many years and knew we should extend an overture,” says Silvani. “I appreciate what the organization does and the approach it takes of not just talking the talk but getting out there into the field and making it happen, too.”
Alley Cat Allies Staff Attorney Molly Armus and Associate Director of Animal Shelter & Animal Control Engagement Alice Burton traveled to Hernando to tour the shelter, HSNC, and PetLuv. On April 24, they attended the meeting with the Board of County Commissioners to discuss Alley Cat Allies’ work, answer questions, and urge the implementation of TNR. Terry gave a presentation on the program, detailed the role of each partner organization, and revealed that he already had a commitment from Compassion Spay Neuter Inc. to match up to $50,000 for TNR. Even Betty Erhard, the mayor of Brooksville, the county seat of Hernando County, spoke in support of the program.
“Going in armed with all of that made it incredibly hard for the commission to say no,” says Terry. “So they didn’t. They all approved it.”
A few barriers to TNR remain in the county’s code, such as a mandatory hold period for cats in the shelter and a policy that considers citizens who feed cats to be their owners. Terry has submitted revised ordinance language to remove these barriers and expects it to be approved within a few weeks.
The program is already mapped out. Animal control officers will take any outdoor cat without an eartip (the universal sign that a cat has been spayed or neutered through a TNR program) to Hernando County Animal Services. Unsocialized community cats will immediately be referred to the TNR program. The shelter will spay or neuter, vaccinate, and eartip the cats in their in-house veterinary suite and send additional cats to PetLuv. Shelter staff will also encourage caregivers to bring their cats directly to PetLuv.
PetLuv, which has done low-cost spay and neuter for more than 165,000 animals since 1996, including community cats, has locked in a great low rate of $20 per cat for the TNR program. This includes spay or neuter services, vaccination, deworming, de-flea, cleaning ears, and eartipping. PetLuv also has a kitten nursery to foster any kittens or pregnant cats. It is important for kittens to be cared for until they are eight weeks old and at least two pounds, the best time for them to be spayed or neutered and then adopted. PetLuv can give kittens the round-the-clock care they need but if a shelter or rescue cannot, citizens can help through a Wait Until 8 program.
“This isn’t new to [PetLuv], so I’m not afraid of being able to handle the program once it gets established in Hernando County,” says Silvani. “We can double our capacity easily and help more cats.”
HSNC will tap into its volunteer resources to transport the cats from Hernando County Animal Services or PetLuv and return them to their outdoor homes. HSNC will also be the adoption coordinator for any socialized cats and adopt out kittens from PetLuv once they’re old enough.
The county’s TNR program is a model for cities and counties around the nation. Terry is excited to roll up his sleeves and get to work and says many members of the community are just as eager.
“I’ve already been getting phone calls from people who want to participate and are saying, “˜Hey, when you get this started, I have cats in my area,'” says Terry. “I think we’re all more than ready to do the humane thing for cats instead of senselessly killing them.”
Alley Cat Allies will continue to offer guidance and support as Hernando County updates its county code and kicks off its new program. We thank the Hernando County Commissioners for approving TNR and look forward to learning about all the cats’ lives it saves.
If you want to help your own shelter and community make humane changes like Hernando, learn how with Alley Cat Allies’ guide, Transforming Shelters to Save More Cats: A Blueprint for Change.