Three weeks after a new “trap, neuter, return” city ordinance took effect on Jan. 1 in response to an out-of-control feral cat population in Fort Worth, local animal advocates and city officials were chasing down a rumor with intent to kill: the story of yet another “cat killer” in Trinity Park.
The TNR ordinance was welcomed by area animal advocates and rescue groups, whose members have long cared for the wild cats that make up a colony of survivor felines in Fort Worth’s large urban park bracketed by University Drive and the Trinity River. But in a meeting to discuss the concept last February, as Fort Worth Weekly reported, a few people advocated shooting or otherwise eliminating the cats, to the consternation of most of the crowd. Around that time, approximately 20 cats disappeared from Trinity Park seemingly overnight, and animal rights groups were furious.
“We still don’t know whether the original culprits used guns or poisons or something else,” said Ro Williams, founder of Cattailz.org, an online cat rescue and adoption website. The missing cats were part of the regular group fed by volunteers and park neighbors, she said.
The latest rumor swirls around a lone cat killer, dubbed “the woodsman,” who was allegedly hunting and killing cats in the park at night. The story led to discussions about a web blogger using the same name and posting photographs of apparently lifeless cats.
“That guy’s website has been taken down,” said Williams, one of a dozen vocal animal rights advocates who attended the original meeting and one who believes the rash of killings was a response to it. “This sounds like a case of a fertile imagination and the rehash of an old story.”
Williams is pretty sure that if there had been another spate of cat killings in Fort Worth’s Trinity Park, she would have heard about it. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said, “but there’s nothing on my radar.”
The keeper of the original reward fund for information leading to the arrest of the “cat killer” a year ago, Williams said she personally hired a private investigator to look into the case. “He never found a thing,” Williams said. She maintains the balance of the donations, in case funds are needed in the future. “We have used a little of that money to buy food for the cats still in the park, but most of it will remain available,” she said.
The Fort Worth Police Department and the city’s Animal Care and Control Division say there is no evidence to support the rumor.
Fort Worth Police Cpl. Tracey Knight said, “We had a Rottweiler shot in the head on Jan. 16, but in terms of animals, that’s been the only incident. If we had dead cats in Trinity Park, I’d be getting calls left and right.”
Knight said that, in additon to ordinances concerning animal treatment, there are laws against firing guns within the city limits, and, “Trinity Park is a gun-free zone, just like schools are.”
The Rottweiler, named “Sandy” by city animal control officers, survived, Knight said, and is being cared for by Katy’s Promise Rottweiler Rescue of Austin. Katy’s Promise spokesperson Kapi Neely said that the dog is doing well, after extensive surgery, and has her own Facebook page, called “Sandy the Shotgunned Rottweiler.”
The TNR ordinance allows professionals and volunteers alike to proceed with humane trapping, getting the cats vaccinated and neutered, and returning the feral animals to the wild. In addition to promoting humane treatment, the city expects the TNR program to reduce public safety hazards and nuisances and to cut down on the number of feral cats euthanized by the city.
“We’re excited about the new ordinance,” Williams said. “There’s a lot more interest and support for low-cost solutions for people in Fort Worth.” She said the Texas Coalition for Animal Protection and the Humane Society of North Texas are making more services available. “It amazes me that the public doesn’t search for alternatives to dumping their animals or something worse. There are options.”
Williams said she hopes the TNR ordinance will help end a long cycle of constant reproduction among the Trinity Park feral cat population. “It’s a proven method in other parts of the country, and it’s humane,” she said.
Early drafts of the Fort Worth TNR plan included a complicated hierarchy for volunteer accountability, Williams said. Feral cat colonies required sponsors, sponsors had to get permits, and caretakers had to work through sponsors.
“The approved ordinance is streamlined,” she said. “There is accountability without so much bureaucracy.” Copies of the three-page TNR ordinance are available on the city’s website.
The TNR process is expected to reduce the number of new cats born into an exisiting feral colony and eventually reduce the population. The cats remain in existing colonies, away from neighborhoods and streets. Volunteers often remove kittens as soon as they are weaned and work to place them into adoptive homes. The practice is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States.
“Everybody wants the same thing,” Williams said. “The volunteers who take care of these cats go out to feed them, sometimes every day. They are devoted to a humane and realistic solution.”