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Nonprofit head lauds new Prince George’s County animal welfare law

A new law in Prince George's County supporting trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs gives advocacy groups and county animal managers the tools they need to reduce the number of cats euthanized in the county, said Helen Woods, president of the nonprofit Laurel Cats.
A new law in Prince George's County supporting trap-neuter-vaccinate-return programs gives advocacy groups and county animal managers the tools they need to reduce the number of cats euthanized in the county, said Helen Woods, president of the nonprofit Laurel Cats. (Lena McBean / HANDOUT)

For Laurel Cats President Helen Woods, improving the lives of all cats in Laurel is a constant labor of love, whether it’s by partnering with Laurel Petco and the Last Chance Animal Rescue to foster and adopt out homeless cats or trapping feral ones at 4 a.m. for neutering.

“Owned" by four indoor cats of her own, Woods said the success of the all-volunteer, nonprofit Laurel Cats’ TNVR (trap-neuter-vaccinate-return) program influenced the cat part of a “landmark” Prince George’s County animal welfare law that went into effect Feb. 3.

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The new law will increase fines and enforcement, address resident concerns about leash requirements, and improve handling of dangerous and negligent owners. It will also maintain the current ban on the pit bull dog breed.

“We’re excited that the county supported the passage of this bill, which has the potential to allow citizens and cat groups to reduce the cat population, nuisance complaints, and cat intake and euthanasia as we have in Laurel,” Woods said.

Part of the law, included as an amendment, excludes free-roaming cats from the “animal at large” definition and clarifies that feeding and caring for them does not create a public nuisance.

Prince George’s County Department of the Environment Director Joseph Gill agreed with Woods that the cat portion of the bill, supported by national and local animal care organizations, passed without controversy. County Council member Tom Dernoga, however, said, “not everyone is excited about feral cats” since they pose a danger to the bird population. Woods said the declining bird population is a legitimate concern, and that everyone agrees there are too many outdoor cats in Laurel.

Animal Control Ordinance changes now in effect state “Animal Services may enter into agreements with local animal rescue care organizations having experience with ear tipped cats for trap, neuter and return] purposes."

Cats neutered through a TNR program have the tip of their left ear clipped before being returned to their colonies. Woods said that when free-roaming cats are taken in at the county shelter, animal welfare groups such as Laurel Cats are notified by email so they can pick them up before the cats are euthanized, which saves lives and tax dollars.

Laurel Cats administers the TNVR program, and there are others in the county.

“There was only one healthy free-roaming cat euthanized in Prince George’s County Laurel last year,” Woods said. “We want to see that number at zero.”

Many people don’t realize that TNVR is designed to humanely and effectively decrease the outdoor cat population to zero over time, Woods said.

Laurel Cats recently released its annual Winter Community Cat Census — data collected by hundreds of volunteers active in the group’s TNVR program.

According to Laurel Cats’ Feb. 4 press release, the outdoor cat population in Laurel has declined by 42% since 2015. Since 2013, cat complaints to Prince George’s County decreased by 61%, the number of Laurel cats taken in to the animal shelter decreased by 71%, and the number euthanized decreased by 73%.

Rodney Taylor, associate director of Prince George’s County Animal Services, called the work of Laurel Cats critical to the department.

“Whenever intake numbers decrease, the operational cost is positively impacted,” Taylor wrote in an email. “It is our hope that other animal welfare groups would take a similar approach … [and] hopefully one day eliminate feral cats throughout Prince George’s County.”

Becky Robinson, president and founder of the nation’s leading cat advocacy organization, Alley Cat Allies of Bethesda, and author of the book, “The Evolution of the Cat Revolution,” has led the effort to popularize TNR in the United States.

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“We love that Prince George’s County is joining thousands of other communities across the country … embracing Trap-Neuter-Return … the answer to the public’s demand for our leaders to be saving cats, not killing them," Robinson wrote in an email.

“We’re stopping the heartbreak and ending the suffering,” Woods said. “Our end goal is to have every Laurel cat in a loving indoor home.”

As for dogs, Dernoga said he received emails from animal rights groups after a Washington Post article in October reported that a council committee had advanced a bill that would repeal a decades-old ban on pit bull terriers.

The amendment, which did not pass at a hearing last November, proposed removing all language from the ordinance relating to and prohibiting pit bull terriers.

Dernoga said that while he received more public feedback in favor of repealing the ban, public safety concerns remained. He said there are good arguments to be made for the repeal, but that the issue needs to be discussed more broadly.

“My concern is you don’t ban pit bulls, maybe you should register them, but the amendment was all or nothing,” he said.

Gill wrote in an email that the new law’s passage affects the welfare of dogs by placing restrictions on tethering them, clarifying the definition of potentially dangerous animals and mandating that impounded animals be spayed/neutered and microchipped at their owners’ expense before being released.

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