JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — A new construction project is forcing dozens of local cats out of their habitat and putting their nine lives in danger.
They are living in a desirable stretch of land along the intercoastal in Jacksonville Beach. But a developer is building a $45 million marina with residential units, restaurants, and stores there.
We first told you about the “Boat Ramp Cats” back in late July 2022. Teresa O’Brien helps look after the cats.
“They’re sweet cats, you know. They’re innocent animals. I feel bad for them,” she said.
Volunteers like O’Brien come to the grasslands where the cats live about four times a week to make sure they have enough food and water.
“It takes 12-gallon jugs of water,” O’Brien said. “And about 20 pounds of dry food.” She estimated there were between 50 to 60 feral cats here during the summer.
And while that is a very large community, Lindsay Layendecker with the Jacksonville Humane Society said feral cats are a common sight in northeast Florida.
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“You’re going to see community cats all throughout the city,” she said.
She said it could be attributed to warm weather and a consistent food source. And while cats are resilient, moving them could cause stress.
“Traditionally, what the experts would recommend is [to] leave the cats where they are,” Layendecker said. “And for everyone to kind of work together to find the best solution.”
But this particular community of cats must move because their habitat is being bulldozed.
The City of Jacksonville backed the developer, Windward Jacksonville Beach, and recently got approval to expand its marina and enlarge its parking lot into the grassland.
Now that construction is underway, neighbors worry the cats won’t survive.
“There’s nowhere to go,” O’Brien said. “This is landlocked. They have a little bridge that has heavy traffic and boats going over it.”
Action News Jax’s Jessica Barreto repeatedly contacted Windward to ask them if the cats would be removed before construction begins. And when they didn’t respond, she went there in person. They refused to comment.
Since the project was backed by the City of Jacksonville, Barreto took her questions to them and got results!
In a statement, the City agreed relocation should be considered as a last resort, and that feeding stations could be moved to less active areas to help them move out. You can read the City’s full statement at the bottom of the story.
“Usually with construction, what we just recommend is if you can slowly just start to change transition where you’re feeding them and try to move it slowly, like day by day to a new location. The cats will adjust,” Layendecker said. “The cats are smart.”
It should be a bit easier now, since volunteers have trapped about half the cats and found them homes or sanctuaries where they can live outdoors.
“The worst fear is that they’ll get displaced, possibly injured, trying to run away,” O’Brien said.
Volunteers estimate there are about 25 cats still left on the property. They took most, if not all, to be fixed as part of a program: Trap, Neuter, Return.
For perspective on how prevalent feral cat colonies are, the nonprofit First Coast No More Homeless Pets said it has neutered 10,439 cats in Duval County alone throughout the course of the past fiscal year.
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Full statement from the City of Jacksonville:
“In general, relocation of colony cats should only be considered as a last resort. In most cases, it is not in the best interest of the cats for them to be moved. They become very attached to their home areas and often times if relocation is attempted the cats will attempt to try and return which puts them in even greater danger. If the developer is willing to work with the caretakers to determine where the least active areas of the construction site will be, the feeding stations and shelters can be moved to those areas that are safe for the cats throughout the construction project allowing the cats to naturally establish a new, close by, home territory that is safe. Cats typically will avoid the construction process and equipment. I am not familiar with this project or the particular area surrounding it, so I unfortunately do not know if this is a viable option for the area. If relocation to a completely new area is the only option, relocation of cats requires adherence to very strict protocols to ensure that it has the greatest chance of success. This involves confinement of the cats at the new location for up to two months to allow them to adjust to their new outdoor home.
“Regardless of jurisdiction, we are happy to assist colony caretakers to the best of our ability to aid in working toward a positive outcome for the cats. ACPS does not have the ability to safely or humanely relocate the colony of cats. However, if there are unaltered cats in the colony, we can assist by providing spay/neuter. In addition, as adoption space allows, we can evaluate any kittens or socialized cats to determine if they are candidates for adoption in an attempt to decrease the number of cats that caretakers are working with.”