At the Walton County Sheriff's Town Hall Meeting Tuesday night, Ashley Ribando, of Feline Friends of Destin, spoke on the behalf of Alley Cat Allies in regards to the Aug. 25 shooting of a feral cat in Freeport.
"We urge Walton County officials to charge the shooter with animal cruelty and prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law. The shooter’s actions are in direct violation of a Florida statute," read the statement prepared by Alley Cat Allies.
The cat, named Momma Cat by its caregivers, was part of a trap-neuter-return program, in which cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and then returned to their colonies where they live out their lives.
Outraged when local police did not immediately prosecute the shooter — the police report read that "no criminal act was noted" — the caregivers called Alaqua Animal Refuge and Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization for feral cats, looking to seek justice. WCSO responded by assigning Criminal Investigations Division to examine the incident. The investigation is done, but now the answer of prosecution lies with the district attorneys.
Cyndi Jennings and her boyfriend Mark Crow have been feeding the feral cats on Bayshore Drive since 2009, but have been trying to move the cats to their new neighborhood, about five minutes away.
Since the shooting, they have been trying to catch the entire colony and keep them on their property. They've spent thousands of dollars building an enclosed fence and house for the cats.
The residents on Bayshore Drive told The Sun, that the feral cats in the area are a big problem. And the few that Jennings and Crow care for are just the beginning
"There are about 30 or 40 other cats that have learned to be fed by these people. After they have their cat farm are they still going to come here and feed the cats?" asked Alecia Dahl. "While we have all tried to do what we could with the feral cats, limits have been met and I for one am at mine."
Dahl recalls neighbors have spent their own time and money to spay and neuter cats, but the problem keeps growing.
"It's understandable with everything that has happened here," Dahl said of the shooting. "Furniture has been destroyed, organic gardens have been destroyed and eaten, there is cat poop/throw-up on almost every other step and since I live close to one of the feeding grounds, my dogs have been covered in fleas."
Dahl's mother, Christine, says that Jennings and Crow have been asked not to feed the feral cats for years by Bayshore residents.
"They moved away a year or two ago, but they still come to our street twice a day, leaving cat food on people's properties," she said.
Dahl and her mother do not believe the shooting was an act of animal cruelty.
"I can't say what I would have done, but I find no fault in it," Christine said.
"There was no vicious shooting that came from nowhere," Dahl added. "This was years of having to put up with these cats."
Aileen Walden, interim director of community programs and support with Alley Cat Allies, says that she can understand the frustrations with feral cats, but says the organization's response to the shooting is about "the act of cruelty."
"An act of violence never solves these issues," she said.
No matter what the investigation findings are, there are still dozens of cats in the Bayshore neighborhood to be fed.
"It really is a sad situation," Dahl said. "While it might have been thoughtful to start, it has now become a problem that is completely out of hand."