PUNTA GORDA — Fishermen’s Village has a plan to trap dozens of its feral cats beginning Monday and ship them to the Animal Welfare League.
If that happens, the cats likely will be euthanized, and that has a group of volunteers that has been caring for them for some two years all riled up.
The village’s general manager Patti Allen said Thursday she’s already begun receiving angry calls from animal lovers who are threatening to boycott her business over the plan.
She said she loves animals, too. However, Fishermen’s Village, a resort that has a 114-slip marina, 37 shops and restaurants, and a 47-unit condominium complex, is not the right place for a feral cat colony, she said.
“They’re trying to do the right thing,” Allen said. “I’m trying to do the right thing. I respect their position. I would hope they would respect mine.”
The cat care volunteers have been feeding the cats every morning and trapping a few each week so they could undergo sterilization surgeries through several animal rescue organizations in Charlotte and Sarasota counties. The operation follows the Trap-Neuter-Return rescue model.
The effort engaged several volunteer veterinarians who conducted the surgeries on more than 60 of the Fishermen’s Village cats in Sarasota County and 70 in Charlotte, according to officials from the Animal Welfare League of Charlotte County and the Animal Rescue Coalition in Venice.
The caretakers say they were unaware that their efforts were failing to stabilize the colony until this week, when they learned of the village’s trapping plan.
If the village’s management had consulted the rescue community, the cat experts could have brainstormed solutions and ramped up their efforts, said Caroline Resnick, feral cat program manager for the Animal Rescue Coalition.
“There’s been a lot of hands that have helped out at Fishermen’s Village,” she added.
Christine Hill, a Port Charlotte home health nurse who spends her spare time caring for the cats, warned that a mass eradication won’t solve the problem. It will create a feral-cat vacuum that will attract newcomers, she said.
“Fishermen’s Village’s cats are part of their history,” Hill added, alluding to the resort’s origins as the city fish dock. “They were there before the shopping mall.”
However, Allen said the cat population has grown “to an unacceptable level for any business” despite the volunteer efforts. She said there are uncounted cats dwelling beneath the walkways.
Cats create sanitation and other nuisances that don’t belong in such a facility, she said.
Allen also cited “past claims and a current claim” from customers apparently seeking damages for unspecified problems with the cats.
“Therefore, it is in the best interest of all parties involved that we reduce the population of feral cats,” she said.
Sharon Thomas, executive director of the Animal Welfare League, said she was saddened by the thought the cats would be killed after so much effort to save them.
Hill and other volunteers had been transporting the cats to Sarasota-area rescue facilities for their surgeries until February, when they convinced the Charlotte AWL to adopt the program, Thomas said.
Since then, AWL staff and its part-time veterinarian have volunteered to spay and neuter the animals, she said.
Typically, feral cats avoid human contact, so they’re not adoptable. Most get euthanized to save space for domesticated strays, she explained.
“I can’t in good conscience do that to the cats from this colony,” Thomas said.
Instead, she said, she’s urging Fishermen’s Village to ease up on the rate of the trapping. That way, the AWL might be able to find rural homes for some.
She cited that the AWL recently established a Barnyard Buddies program, which solicits volunteers who might need some freelance “mousers.”
Thomas also has contacted several national organizations, including the United States Humane Society and Alley Cat Rescues, which are working to find places for the cats.
Allen met with Lt. Brian Jones of Charlotte County Animal Control earlier this week to plan her trapping operation, Jones said.
The plan calls for Fishermen’s staffers to put out 10 to 15 traps baited with cat food per week. County animal control officers will retrieve the cats and transport them to the AWL.
The operation could take several months to complete, Jones said.
“I told (Allen), this is going to be done in manageable doses,” Jones said. “I have to consider the regular calls we go to every day.”
Jones said the county did not trigger the cat roundup. The county is supporting it just as it would for any resident with a feral cat problem, he said.
Allen pointed out Fishermen’s Village hopes to upgrade the mall’s seating areas. The cats pose a threat to such an investment, she said.
“The bottom line is, this is a business,” she said. “It is private property and we need to get control of the feral cat problem.”