Stray cats and dogs who find themselves within V.I. National Park boundaries will now be turned over to the St. John Animal Care center for a little TLC, and either a reunion with their owners, or adoption to a new home.
The VINP and the ACC signed a memorandum of understanding last month, ensuring that stray cats and dogs will not be relocated or destroyed, but rather turned over to the island’s only animal shelter.
“A lot of folks come to Trunk Bay to renew their wedding vows, and the National Park Service and the ACC renewed ours by signing this agreement,” said VINP Superintendent Mark Hardgrove. “We’ve had this agreement for many years, but when I arrived on island, we didn’t have the kind of relationship with the ACC that we used to.”
Interest began to rekindle upon Hardgrove becoming acquainted with ACC board president B.J. Harris, who he met in yet another of her leadership positions with the St. John Rotary. The issue of stray animals in the park came to the forefront when park officials attempted to bring to the ACC cats it had trapped within VINP boundaries, but were turned away.
“When we first started to trap some of the stray cats, we went there and they didn’t want to take them,” said Hardgrove. “B.J. came to me and said that the person working there that day just didn’t know, and to make sure B.J. was made aware every time we were trapping strays. In the long run, we decided it was better to sign an agreement that will outlast both her and me.”
The memorandum of understanding will also alleviate concerns of pet owners whose dogs and cats have gone missing. Cats have been trapped within park boundaries and relocated elsewhere on the island, never to be recovered, Harris explained.
“In an effort to avoid that and make sure it never happens again, the park was more than happy to do this with us,” said Harris. “We’re really excited about it.”
The majority of the animals trapped within park boundaries are cats, as populations grow at the island’s various bush cat feeding stations, and some of the felines have to turn elsewhere for food. Stray dogs are found from time to time, usually after being set free by owners who choose to no longer care for their pets.
Management of non-native species within park boundaries is important to the well-being of the plants and animals that call the VINP home, Hardgrove explained.
“If it’s turtle season, we’ll try to remove the bush cats that are using any of the beach areas, because they’ll impact turtle nesting,” he said. “The turtles will head back out to sea if they see the cats. It’s just not safe.”
“The whole reason for managing pets is so natural species aren’t disturbed,” Hardgrove continued. “You’ve got ground nesting birds that use the shoreline for feeding, and they see these animals as predators. It’s just disruptive.”
Hardgrove encouraged the public to report suffering, sick, or growing animal populations within the VINP to park officials.
“Inside the park, we’ll try to control and keep the natural ecosystem as intact as we can,” he said.