Not encouraging feeding sidesteps most objections to new Los Angeles neuter/return cat control program
LOS ANGELES, California––The long-awaited Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program on December 10, 2020 won unanimous approval from the Los Angeles City Council.
“The Council vote clears the way for the city to use municipal funds to operate the Citywide Cat Program, which will spay or neuter 20,000 cats per year,” explained Alley Cat Allies publicist Peter Osborne.
The vote came approximately 60 days after publication of a 714-page Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report.
A single seven-word subheading in Chapter 3 of that report appears to have decisively turned the Los Angeles political tide in favor of the Citywide Cat Program:
The Proposed Project Does Not Encourage Feeding.
With those seven words, the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering swept away almost every objection to the proposed Citywide Cat Program offered by either opponents or proponents of neuter/return outdoor cat population control in 628 pages of public comment on the Citywide Cat Program, as outlined in City of Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Environmental Impact Report, published in August 2019.
“No significant environmental impacts”
“No significant environmental impacts were identified in the analysis of the proposed project,” the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering concludes.
The framework of the Citywide Cat Program was introduced by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation in 2006. It appeared to be making demonstrable headway toward reducing the Los Angeles outdoor cat population when halted on December 9, 2009 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew.
McKnew ruled, on behalf of five organizations representing birders, that the Los Angeles Animal Services had violated the California Environmental Quality Act by issuing $30 sterilization vouchers to neuter/return practitioners. The vouchers were redeemable at five privately operated low-cost spay/neuter clinics and three mobile spay/neuter clinics that worked under city contract.
Cat population has increased
Nearly 10 years elapsed after the McKnew verdict before the City of Los Angeles found the wherewithal to commission the Environmental Impact Report needed to comply with the law.
During the 10 years that the Citywide Cat Program was suspended, the estimated Los Angeles free-roaming cat population increased from circa 50,000 to 342,915, according to the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report.
Some of the increase resulted from increased kitten births, some from altered definitions of what constitutes a “free-roaming cat,” and some from improved survey methods. The previous estimate focused on feral cats who have no established relationship to any particular human, as opposed to indoor/outdoor pet cats and wholly outdoor cats who are fed by someone at a specific location on a regular basis.
“No program elements designed to increase feeding”
Explains the Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report, “The proposed Citywide Cat Program does not include any project elements that are designed to increase feeding of free-roaming cats in the city, as opposed to placing food in traps for purposes of trap/neuter/return (TNR).
“Based on substantial evidence in the Draft Environmental Impact Report and record, the Citywide Cat Program is not anticipated to have any indirect impacts that would result in increased feeding,” the Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report states, “especially in light of the fact that the overall free-roaming cat population is expected to decrease as a result of the project.
“The city will develop a public education and outreach program,” the Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report pledges, “designed to discourage any new or increased outdoor feeding and increase awareness in the community on the potential negative effects of existing outdoor feeding of free-roaming cats in the city.”
“Not all TNR participants feed”
“It should also be noted,” the Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report adds, “that not all trap/neuter/return participants engage in cat management activities such as feeding or monitoring cats, which decouples the trapping, sterilizing, and returning activities of TNR from ongoing cat management.
“Ongoing free-roaming cat care and management is not part of the proposed program,” the Los Angeles Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report stipulates.
“In order to clarify any potential ambiguity in the project elements and analysis, the Draft Environmental Impact Report has been revised [in the Final Environmental Impact Report] to make clear that the Citywide Cat Program only applies to placing food in traps, as part of conducting TNR of free-roaming cats, as opposed to long-term feeding and cat care/maintenance of free-roaming cats,” the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering emphasizes.
Further litigation likely
In theory, Citywide Cat Program can now go full speed ahead.
In practice, every point and paragraph of the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report exists to be litigated, line by line, and surely will be.
By recognizing, however, that “ongoing cat management” is a separate issue from “the trapping, sterilizing, and returning activities of TNR,” and is not part of the Citywide Cat Program, the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering has sidestepped the major points of contention voiced by both program opponents and advocates––and many of the points which might otherwise be litigated.
“Please see Master Response”
The Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report invokes the phrase “Please see Master Response: The Proposed Project Does Not Encourage Feeding” a total of 165 times to objections raised by commenters equating the practice of TNR, as would be facilitated by the Citywide Cat Program, with problems specifically associated with feeding cats, rather than with TNR itself.
For example, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife submitted, “The State of California considers feeding of free-roaming cats harassment of wildlife, prohibited where wild animals would have access to this artificial food. Subsidizing free-roaming cats, in or near natural areas with food, enables cat populations to persist in greater numbers in localized areas that could result in increased predation on native wildlife.”
The Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report finds this irrelevant because “The Proposed Project Does Not Encourage Feeding.”
Urban Wildlands Group expected to sue again
Opponents of the Citywide Cat Program whose critiques are dismissed in whole or in part with “Please see Master Response: The Proposed Project Does Not Encourage Feeding” include (as a partial list) the American Bird Conservancy, Animal Issues Movement founder Phyllis Daugherty, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, National Audubon Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Pet Assistance Foundation, and the Urban Wildlands Group, whose lawsuit led to the requirement that the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report must be completed before the Citywide Cat Program can proceed.
The Urban Wildlands Group response, in particular, the longest submitted in response to the August 2019 Citywide Cat Program Draft Environmental Impact Report, appears to promise a second lawsuit, seeking to overturn the finding of “no significant environmental impacts.”
Cat feeders fare no better
Advocates for the Citywide Cat Program who want aspects of it to be removed to facilitate feeding outdoor cats fare no better.
Among those whose pleas are likewise dismissed with “Please see Master Response: The Proposed Project Does Not Encourage Feeding” include (also as a partial list) Actors & Others for Animals, Alley Cat Allies, the Best Friends Animal Society, the Coalition for Pets & Public Safety, FixNation, the Humane Society of the U.S., Kate Hurley of the University of California at Davis, Kitten Rescue, L.A. Feeders, Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz, and the Stray Cat Alliance.
Citywide Cat Program to prevent nearly 1.3 million kitten births
The Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report finds that “Through providing 20,000 free-roaming cat spay and neuter surgeries per year for 30 years, the proposed project would result in the cumulative provision of additional 600,000 spay and neuter surgeries, resulting in the prevention of 1,264,305 free-roaming kitten births over the life of the 30-year horizon period.
“The cumulative magnitude is important to note because of the continual effect sterilizations can have on a population over time,” the report explains, “resulting in more than an annual effect but a progressive population effect over time. Therefore, the modeled population declines would more than offset the contribution of released free-roaming cats to the overall free-roaming cat population.
Net reduction of 46,409 free-roaming cats
“If the proposed project were implemented,” the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report authors conclude, “it could lead to a reduction of 46,409 free-roaming cats by 2030,” or within the initial third of the “30-year horizon period, “compared to the No Project Alternative.”
Over the entire 30 years, the Citywide Cat Program would accomplish “an approximate 13.6% decrease in total free-roaming cat population abundance in the entire study area,” even as the Los Angeles human and indoor pet cat populations continue to expand at approximately the present rate.
“TNR is the preferred method”
The Citywide Cat Program components would center on the provision of free and/or discounted spay or neuter surgeries by Los Angeles Animal Services.
A City of Los Angeles Administrative Code amendment would expand the permitted use of Animal Sterilization Fund monies from “pet sterilization,” the current phrase, to “animal sterilization.”
This would be done in conjunction with adopting a requirement that “No monies intended to spay or neuter pet cats in the city would be reduced,” and a declaration that “TNR is the preferred method of addressing the free-roaming cat population and the city’s official policy.”
Los Angeles Animal Services would collaborate with “organizations experienced and engaged in TNR,” by “using animal services centers to provide information and training to citizens who wish to participate in TNR,” and by “Implementing a policy regarding free-roaming cat complaints that involves informing the complainant about the benefits of TNR and referring them to TNR organizations.”
Cat limit per household raised from three to five
Los Angeles Animal Services would also discourage surrenders of cats to local animal service centers, “except if the cat is injured or sick, the cat has bitten someone, the cat’s welfare is in jeopardy, there is a public health hazard, or the potential exists for harm to people or companion animals.”
Incentives including vouchers and waived cat trap rental fees would be used “to encourage the capture, sterilization, and release of free-roaming cats.”
In addition, “In order to encourage more adoptions and meet the city’s no-kill goals, the currently permitted number of cats per household would be changed from three cats to five. All the cats must be kept indoors at all times, all the cats must be microchipped and sterilized, and the household must be registered with Los Angeles Animal Services as having more than three cats.”
Working Cats Program
A new Working Cats Program would be started “to facilitate the relocation of free-roaming cats from the streets and into indoor/enclosed sites.”
The Working Cats Program “would prioritize admission of cats found in or near [designated] Environmentally Sensitive Areas, in unsafe locations, or when it is undesirable to return a free-roaming cat to its found location.”
The Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report makes clear that the Citywide Cat Program does not intend that free-roaming cats, often called “community cats,” should become a permanent part of the Los Angeles habitat to the extent that this can be avoided.
No “community cats”
Indeed, while commenters on the Citywide Cat Program Draft Environmental Impact Report use the phrase “community cat” 142 times, the the City of Los Angeles, Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering City does not use the phrase at all.
Instead, the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report mandates, Los Angeles Animal Services “will develop a public education and outreach program designed to increase awareness for the public and city staff, partners, and volunteers to address the potential impacts of the existing free-roaming cat population.
“This program,” the report says, “will focus on impacts of overpopulation of free-roaming cats and what they can do to help minimize impacts related to public health, such as providing sterilization and on-going flea treatments, as well as keeping clean shelter areas free of fecal accumulation.”
In addition, the Citywide Cat Program Final Environmental Impact Report requires, “The city shall create partnerships with third parties who offer free-roaming cat trapping training so people can learn how to trap responsibly.”
Citywide Cat Program rules
Trapping responsibly, the Citywide Cat Program rules stipulate, include that:
• Traps should be monitored at all times and partially covered once occupied.
• If a free-roaming cat is trapped in an Environmentally Sensitive Area, it is recommended that the cat be enrolled in a Working Cat Program, based on availability, or adopted through a rescue group if possible. If these options are not available, the cat should be returned to the Environmentally Sensitive Area.
(Returning cats to Environmentally Sensitive areas appears to be the part of the Citywide Cat Program most likely to fuel further litigation.)
• If trapping in or near an Environmentally Sensitive Area, avoid undisturbed areas and vegetation; traps should be placed on paved or developed areas.
• Maps of Environmentally Sensitive Areas in the city shall be provided for reference in the city shelters and on the Los Angeles Animal Services website for downloading and printing.
• Where feasible, to avoid potential interactions/conflict with vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems), trapping should not occur in proximity of individuals from such populations.
• Trapping locations should be kept clean so that no traces of food, refuse, or fecal matter are left behind after trapping events. Contaminated surfaces should be disinfected as needed to help maintain cleanliness and contain the potential spread of disease. Gloves should be used when handling traps. Wash hands and clean equipment afterwards.
• Free-roaming cats should be sterilized and ear tipped. Microchipping is recommended if funding is available. Free-roaming cats who will be placed in a WCP will be microchipped.
• At the time of sterilization, the rabies and FVRCP vaccine should be administered, along with flea treatment and deworming.