UPPER MARLBORO, Md (WUSA) There's a cat fight on in Prince George's County.
Bird lovers have just derailed a plan to save some alley cats from death at the hands of animal control.
By some counts there are as many as 120 million wild cats roaming the woods and alleys of America. And studies cited by the American Bird Conservancy suggest they kill as many as 4.1 billion birds and small mammals a year.
In a Bethesda office where a half dozen former alley cats roam, a group called Ally Cat Allies has been pushing a unique solution on local governments for years. "You humanely trap cats," says executive director Britt Cocanour, "you take them to a veterinarian, they are neutered, they are vaccinated and they are returned to their home, which is their colony."
The American Bird Conservancy, which opposes "trap, neuter, and return," says what you are really doing is releasing predatory, ownerless cats back into the wild to kill again.
Some of the neutered cats have their ears "tipped" to mark them as treated cats. When Prince George's County Council woman Mary Lehman proposed to order animal control to release those "ear-tipped" cats, she ran into a storm of criticism at a council public hearing.
"We had in excess of 25 or 30 cats in one block," says Devon Brown. "The smell was terrible."
Critics are also worried about their own health. "I went to intervene, says Midge Cruz about a cat fight. "I got scratched, my hand got bit and it swelled to twice the size."
Lehman was forced to put off her bill for now.... but she promises to bring it back in the fall. "This is not trail-blazing legislation," she said. "Fairfax County, Baltimore City, and Washington, DC all have programs."
Bird lovers -- and wild cat lovers -- promise they'll be back when it comes up again too.
Alley Cat Allies says humans are a far bigger threat to birds and small mammals than feral cats. And they say "trap, neuter and return" is the only proven way over the long term to shrink the population of millions of wild cats that we've been talking about.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now & wusa9.com