PB Cats: Criticism by town unmerited
PB Cats: Criticism by town unmerited
Director says group an easy target and is doing its best with limited resources.Palm Beach Daily News, FL - July 16, 2006
By DAVID ROGERS,Daily News Staff Writer
Sharp criticism this week from the town staff and Town Council members is unwarranted, insists PB Cats Executive Director Beth Pouncey.
Following the council's directive in June to review the program's operations, town staff reported Tuesday that PB Cats' record-keeping is "inadequate," that it has "limited information" about cat colonies in town and that it does not have a formal method for handling complaints about cats.
Town Council President Denis Coleman had strong words about the organization at Tuesday's council meeting.
"The management has been incompetent," Coleman said. "I don't re-support incompetent management. It's been a disgrace — an absolute disgrace."
But Pouncey said Friday her organization is an easy target for a council looking to trim the town's budget.
"I felt this is seen as the one that could be fired upon most readily. They took out their big guns and went rat-a-tat-tat, even though for three years we have done public stewardship. And for most of those three years they had nothing but the warmest accolades for our work within the community," Pouncey said.
The report, by Assistant Town Manager Sarah Hannah, also states there is "still a high population of kittens born of feral cats" in Palm Beach and notes that between June 1, 2005, and May 31, PB Cats accumulated more than $34,000 in boarding fees at Island Animal Hospital. That figure represents about half the total veterinary bill for the period, according to the report. "Many of the cats being boarded are also sick or maimed," Hannah writes in the report.
The report calls the organization underfunded and in need of more paid staff to handle administrative, fund-raising and feeding duties related to the trap, neuter and release program.
The town gave PB Cats $80,000 last year, and has given it $50,000 so far this year. Mayor Jack McDonald and Councilwoman Susan Markin, however, said the town should boost its contribution while also urging it to do more private fund-raising.
"If you think you are going to get a better program without more funding, it's not going to happen," Markin said.
Pouncey said her organization is doing all it can on a shoestring budget. Its staff consists of one full-time employee, Pouncey herself; and two part-time cat feeders. Pouncey is paid $34,000 a year. Hannah's report recommends that PB Cats staff include a full-time director to handle administrative, fund-raising and bookkeeping tasks, a full-time field director and four part-time feeders.
Since its founding, PB Cats has told the town it needs about $160,000 a year to do the job properly, Pouncey said.
"The town has appropriated $80,000 when they knew our operational budget was $158,000," Pouncey said.
The organization, she said, has given the town detailed financial information "down to the postage stamp" on how it has spent its budget. PB Cats started withholding some documents from the town starting last October to protect the privacy of benefactors, Pouncey said. She said she didn't want the specific amount of funds given by each donor, listed with his or her name, to be published.
"We never tried to hide anything that was confronting us regarding how we were disbursing the funds and our concern with budget items that we felt were excessive."
The group must have money to hire a fund-raiser, Pouncey said, as PB Cats' staff is in the field all day long.
As a niche charity, PB Cats has a difficult time raising funds, though it has collected about $50,000 so far, Pouncey said.
Pouncey said the organization does have a handle on the number of cats in town. The organization has divided the town into "grids" and knows, more or less, how many feral cats reside in each area.
Pouncey said her group and others take care of about 369 feral cats in Palm Beach. The idea that Palm Beach is overrun with wild cats is untrue, she said. The group hasn't registered any groups as colonies because it doesn't believe the congregations of cats meet that definition, she said.
The council voted this week to bypass PB Cats in paying a bill to veterinarian Brad Ochstein of Island Animal Hospital. Though council members expressed concern at the percentage of town funds going to cover boarding fees, Ochstein emphasized Friday that he provides medical treatments below cost for feral cat care via PB Cats.
He does not discount boarding fees as he does not want his practice turned into a shelter, he said.
"We're not trying to profit from this program. As a matter of fact, when providing services that are appropriate (neutering/spaying), we are losing money. We are fine with that. We consider it our obligation to the town."
The veterinarian said his most recent bill for services was just over $20,000.
"As a gesture of good faith, we have decided to donate half of that amount back to the (PB Cats) program to help keep it afloat while the council decides how to proceed," Ochstein said.
Coleman said Tuesday the program must consider euthanasia as a component of the program to control the feral-cat population.
"We must go no-holds-barred and include euthanasia, if necessary," he said.
Councilman Richard Kleid agreed.
Markin said a complete count of the feral cat population should be done before looking to euthanasia as an option. Councilman Bill Brooks argued against it as a general fix, also. Councilman Allen Wyett said that option, or moving the cats out of town, is necessary.
Like Pouncey, Ochstein said he does not support euthanasia as a component of the feral cat control program.
The ethical issue is not the only factor to deal with regarding euthanasia, he said. Having it as a component would open Palm Beach to a storm of negative publicity, he said.
"While I understand that they want to at least reserve that option so they can tell their constituents they are going to solve the problem one way or another, I would hope that they would understand that would be the last nuclear option due to the negative effect it would have on the town regardless of which side of the argument you are on," Ochstein said.
To view the town staff's full report, visit palmbeach.govoffice.com, click "Agendas, Minutes, Ordinances and Resolutions." then "Agendas," and "Backup."
The report starts on page 295 of the July 11 agenda backup document.
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See previous Feral Cat Blog! post.