Winter Park has a cat conundrum in Mead Botanical Garden, but what’s the best “paw-ssible” solution?
City Commissioners tried to quell a cat problem on Monday when they approved a new city ordinance on first reading that fines anyone caught feeding feral cats in Mead Botanical Garden – a response to the park’s ever-growing cat population.
Anyone caught feeding the felines will face a $50 fine on the first offense, a $100 fine on the second offense and a mandatory court appearance for additional violations.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Director John Holland said the city has been trying to cut down the cat population in the garden, which is estimated at 25 and 30 cats.
Holland said Winter Park previously tried hiring a trapper to catch the cats to have them spayed and neutered, but it only trimmed down the population slightly.
They later realized that it was due to residents continuously leaving cats in the park and frequently feeding them with open cans of cat food hidden along trails.
Holland said he hoped a law that fines residents for feeding the cats will make a difference.
“It is our understanding that if we stop feeding them, they will go seek food in other areas,” said Holland, adding that cats have also taken their toll on the number of birds in the park.
The same ordinance also prohibits residents from abandoning pets in city parks. Holland said that five kittens were left at Mead Botanical Garden just a few weeks ago.
“We get cats dumped in there all the time,” he said.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper was the only commissioner who opposed the ordinance, believing that the fine should be in place for all city parks and not just Mead Botanical Garden.
But Commissioner Peter Weldon believed the city should take it a step even further by instituting a city-wide process to get rid of stray cats.
“[Holland] has tried trapping and that didn’t really do anything and fining the people may not do anything,” Weldon said. “I’m of the thought that we should not indulge feral cats anywhere in Winter Park for public safety reasons. I’d like to find whatever we can do to process a way to manage that and remove the cats from Winter Park.”
“I’m sympathetic to those who are sympathetic to the cats, but I think there’s a larger public health issue here in the long run for the city.”
Weldon didn’t make an official motion on such a policy, but commissioners agreed that the ordinance from Monday’s meeting was “a good first step.”