In 2008, the Halifax Humane Society euthanized about 21,000 cats each year. Today, it's down to about 3,000 because of the Trap, Neuter and Release program.
Though called "Tuxedo Park," the first cat colony of Port Orange does not require formal wear — only a familiar scent and some food.
In 2012, Concerned Citizens for Animal Welfare, a Volusia County-based nonprofit organization focused on reducing pet overpopulation through affordable and accessible spaying and neutering, established the cat colony after free-roaming cats became a nuisance.
Children of the local elementary school —which will not be named to protect the cats — fed their lunch scraps to the cats or discarded the scraps in the parking lot. When school buses arrived each morning, the children had to navigate around cats eating on the road.
The colony consisted of 26 cats when it was founded. Sixteen of the cats were adopted, and the rest remained in the woods. Local resident Keith Schubert frequently visits the colony to check on the cats' small shelter as well as their food and water levels. The cats, all of which have a unique black and white pattern known as a "tuxedo," emerge for Schubert, their caregiver, but not for strangers.
Pat Mihalic, co-founder of the animal welfare organization, said Volusia County has a large population of free-roaming cats, an issue that affects several areas of the state. The issue is primarily a result of pet owners abandoning cats in the wild without spaying or neutering them, she said.
Moving the cats to another location doesn't work, Mihalic said.
Cats typically return to their "home," often roaming miles and crossing busy roads to do so. Also, as long as an area has shelter and a food source, whether it be from humans or from the wild, cats will return to it.
In addition, a female cat in heat can attract a male cat, which mark their territory and become noisy, within a two-mile radius. A female cat can have kittens at least three times each year. She can get pregnant at four months of age, have a litter of kittens two months later and become pregnant again as she nurses, she said.
"Unless you catch every cat in the whole area, if you missed one female cat, you're back to square one in six months," Mihalic said.
Each city pays about $94 to impound and euthanize free-roaming cats that are not adoptable. Though many cats that are trapped are tame enough to be adopted, the majority are feral, which means they are not domesticated, Mihalic said.
She said impounding is also not a good solution because it invites other cats to move to the area.
The organization's solution for the county was to trap, neuter and release free-roaming cats to stop nuisance behavior, stop breeding and cause a colony to "collapse."
When the organization formed in 2000, representatives approached Volusia County to start a TNR program. Today, the county has nearly 500 registered colonies, which can be as small as one cat. Cats that are part of protected colonies have a small tip cut out of their ear.
The animal welfare organization negotiated with a low-cost clinic owned by the Halifax Humane Society to implement the TNR program, which costs cities about $45 per cat. The organization manages the program for six cities in the county, including Port Orange, and the organization has a standing appointment with the Halifax clinic each Friday to spay, neuter and vaccinate cats.
As a result, the Humane Society euthanasia numbers have collapsed. In 2008, the organization euthanized about 21,000 cats each year. Today, it's down to about 3,000.
"It's very rewarding," Mihalic said.
For this reason, the organization also has a strong force of caregivers watching over the colonies.
"It's so amazing how many people are willing to help," she said. "People from all walks of life are involved."
Caregivers throughout the county care for registered colonies. They are responsible for trapping cats, transporting them to the clinic and rehabilitating them after surgery. Once the cat returns to its colony, the caregiver continues to feed it until it eventually dies. Mihalic said wild cats live fewer than five years, though some may live longer because they are cared for.
Mihalic said the program is win-win-win for animals and humans involved.
"It's a perfect partnership," Mihalic said. "It doesn't cost anything in labor, and it's half the cost of impounding."