City officials looking to start trap-neuter-release program to control feral cat population in Winter Garden

The Winter Garden city manager said the city is looking for a service provider for a trap-neuter-release program.

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  • | 10:38 a.m. August 21, 2019
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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An assertion that the city of Winter Garden is euthanizing stray and feral cats is unfounded, city officials said.

“Rest assured that the city has not trapped any cat for the purpose of euthanization,” Assistant City Manager Frank Gilbert Sr. wrote on Facebook. “Individual employees, including the city manager, have personally taken stray cats from city properties to the vet for treatment and spaying.”

City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said, like most cities, there is a population of feral cats in Winter Garden, but to his knowledge no city employees have captured stray or feral cats to be euthanized in the 22 years he has been with the city. 

“We’d like to contract out a company to do the capture, spay and release program, and that way we can control the population long-term, but we haven’t found anyone yet,” Bollhoefer said. “We’re looking all around, and what we have found is there are places that help you with the spaying part. It’s the capturing part that’s the tricky part — finding someone to do that part of it.”

Bollhoefer said the city and its employees have a history of taking care of stray and feral cats in the area. They have assisted with vet bills for residents who feed or care for groups of cats and getting cats spayed or neutered and then releasing cats back to their homes to control the population. The city also has taken care of some stray dogs over the years, as well.

“It’s just the opposite here,” Bollhoefer said. “We actually have gone to great lengths to take care of these cats.”

Bollhoefer said the previous police chief used to feed cats behind the police station and he’s heard rumors for years about feral cats that live behind the Edgewater Hotel downtown, although he never has seen them. He said there also are other places around the city where people regularly feed colonies of cats. 

There was a litter of kittens about 14 years ago that city employees captured for veterinary care that was affectionately referred to as the “City Hall kitties,” Bollhoefer said. 

“Actually, two of the cats that I have now — two of my three cats — are two of the litter from those ‘City Hall kitties’ 14 years ago, and I still have them,” Bollhoefer said.

Other City Hall employees also adopted kittens from that litter, including City Commissioner Bob Buchanan. 

The city of Winter Garden does not have an animal control department; those services are provided by Orange County. The county does not capture the cats but provides the cages and equipment for municipalities to use for capture. Orange County then takes the cats to a shelter, where they can be rehomed, Bollhoefer said. 

“Being an animal lover, you do what you can to help them,” Bollhoefer said. “But that’s why we also did our best to capture the cats and went to get them spayed and released. We try to be kind to the animals but also responsible to the environment, and we’ve found that’s the perfect middle ground … to find a program where you capture, spay, give them the shots and then release them.”


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