There is currently a lot of debate among animal activists about the rights of a shelter or Humane Society to kill feral cats. While searching for a holding period law for the state of Florida, I came across some information I’d like to share with the readers. Although written in Michigan, it may pertain to other states. This does not apply to cats listed as “owner surrender,” and the shelter or HS should ask whether the cats being turned in are personal pets or were trapped in their yard.
Each reader is encouraged to do their own investigation as to whether their animal care facility is breaking the law by killing cats labeled as feral. The information comes from here and reads.
F. Special situations in which a shelter does not have to hold the animal for a minimum number of days
“There are narrow exceptions in most state statutes that allow shelters to euthanize animals before the minimum holding period has expired. If an animal is extremely sick, believed to be experiencing extreme pain and suffering, or has a contagious disease, the shelter can kill the animal. Such determination of the animal’s condition needs to be made by a veterinarian or the shelter supervisor. If the shelter can determine who the owner of the animal is, it must make efforts to contact the owner by calling him before destroying the animal. Generally, in cases in which the owner is known, the shelter must wait twenty-four hours after obtaining possession of the animal before destroying it; during this time, the shelter must repeatedly call the owner. Such exceptions serve to protect both the specific animal and the animal population in general; allowing a contagious animal into a shelter would likely result in all of the animals becoming sick and therefore unadoptable.”
If I’m reading this correctly, there are only three exceptions to an animal care facility being able to kill a cat labeled as feral.
- If the animal is in extreme pain and suffering
- If the animal is extremely sick and suffering
- If the animal has a contagious disease
There are a few drawbacks, and shelters are usually able to get away with the killing by saying a cat is extremely sick. Should an upper respiratory infection (or canine infectious respiratory disease in dogs, called CIRDS) be a license to kill? They’re both infectious diseases, but if your pet came down with an easily treatable illness such as these at home, you would get them treatment. Killing wouldn’t even cross your mind.
Next there’s the issue on what determines a feral cat. Is it behavior displayed by a cat out of fear after being caged, put into a building with barking dogs, then manhandled to get a health evaluation? It would be interesting to learn how many cats are killed with the “feral” label who are in reality someone’s lost pet. I know the local high-kill shelter in South Carolina encourages people with lost cats to do a walk-through of the feral rooms-just in case. Many, many times cat owners have found their cats in this area.
Every state has a time period in which an animal must be held. Usually it ranges between three and five days. This means a cat labeled as feral, who isn’t critically ill, has to be allowed the full time period in which someone can come and claim the cat. During this time the facility is supposed to make every effort to find the owner, which usually means a photograph on a social media website.
I’ve sat in the waiting area of the Greenville shelter and watched older men come in with a cage full of cats, grinning ear to ear like a possum, and bragging about their catch of the day. I wonder how many of these cats are strays, but are labeled feral? To give credit, many shelters do have a farm barn program, where they offer spayed/neutered cats to farms in the area, with the suggestion the cat be contained for a few weeks to get used to new surroundings.
These “stray catchers” are as big a problem as any adding to the cat population, because many times they’re catching the neighbors cat.
Now back to the feral topic and the problem with shelters killing these cats. Many cats are being killed, often within 24 hours after arrival. All it takes is a hiss from the cage or an angry swipe of the paw to have a death sentence pronounced. I don’t know how to stop this, other than to make the public aware it IS happening. The shelters need to know they’re possibly breaking the law in their state, and are subject to a lawsuit if it can be proved a beloved cat was labeled in error and killed before the holding period had been met. If the cat isn’t sick or injured, it can’t legally be killed.
Please, if your cat goes missing, visit your shelter personally and ask for a walk through of all the rooms, including the sick room and feral room. Your comments on this topic are welcome.