Protecting the 'chum chums': Grasso bill aims to support community cats

County Councilman John Grasso, what’s a chum chum?

“It’s a beautiful animal that somebody loves,” said the Republican from Glen Burnie. “It is an animal that is part of your family and friendly to you.”

Grasso has proposed legislation to tackle a heated issue in Anne Arundel County: protecting free-roaming community cats that are fixed — and spaying and neutering non-fixed community cats. He wants to reduce how often cats are euthanized. Community cats are cats not specifically owned by someone but still receive food and shelter. Think of people leaving out food dishes and putting together boxes and blankets for cats.

The bill goes before the County Council on Monday.

The measure would offer protections for ear-tipped cats — those that have been spayed and neutered and had a portion of their ear removed to mark them. Those cats would be easier to be picked up by their caretakers as the law wouldn’t require showing proof of ownership. It also would allow animal control to give captured cats a rabies shot and encourage its captor to spay and neuter the cat and then release it back in its community.

“When someone thinks they see a cat who is homeless, they think they are doing a good deed by calling animal control,” Grasso said. “They are putting it toward execution.”

Typically, cats sent to animal control are held a minimum of five business days then put up for adoption. Animal control attempts to hold adoptable cats until they are adopted. If an owner doesn’t claim them or the cats aren’t adopted, the county may have to euthanize them due to space issues. Cats determined to be feral are not adoptable and are euthanized.

The county has partnered with animal advocates for trap, neuter and release programs in the past, said Owen McEvoy, spokesman for County Executive Steve Schuh.

“We have been supportive of the concept in the past,” McEvoy said.

Advocates like Bob and Kathy Rude at Rude Ranch in Harwood argue trap, neuter and release programs would reduce cat killing. They’ve worked with the county and have seen long-term improvements when community cat colonies are spay and neutered.

When people realize these cats are killed, it shocks them, Bob Rude said. And for those who are fed up with nuisance animals, getting them fixed takes care of problems such as strong spray smells from male cats.

“This reduces the population of cats in a humane way,” Rude said.

Community cats have long generated debate in The Capital’s opinion section. Just a year ago letters and columns traded back and forth with flurry of stats and studies. A series of letters were submitted after a story about a coalition forming to spay, neuter stray cats in Anne Arundel.

One such letter from Barbara Johnson argued a release program could be dangerous for the birds, squirrels and other small mammals. Johnson is the president of the Maryland Ornithological Society and a former president of the Anne Arundel Bird Club.

“The organized effort in our county to institute a trap-neuter-release program — capturing and neutering stray cats and returning them to the wild — may be well intentioned but will ultimately be ineffective at reducing feral cat populations, and thus potential shelter populations,” Johnson wrote in her column. “Assertions to the contrary have been thoroughly disproven in scholarly peer-reviewed studies in respected journals.”

TNR advocate and humane society worker Scott Giacoppo helped implement Washington D.C.’s trap, neuter and release program. He says opponents need to give it time to work.

Fixed cats can’t reproduce, of course, so their populations don’t grow, Giacoppo said. Not fixing the cats and killing them doesn’t fix population issues since they can still breed.

“TNR is a long-term effective solution,” Giacoppo said. “In today’s society of social consciousness, tax dollars going along with my humane values, catch and kill doesn’t work.”

This story has been updated to reflect a clarification. Animal control keeps cats for a minimum of five days but holds adoptable cats until they are adopted. Feral cats are not adoptable and are euthanized.

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