KEY LARGO -- Dive shop owner Spencer Slate is claiming victory over U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who trapped one of his cats on protected lands along County Road 905.
A federal judge in Key West waived the $75 fine that the federal agency had slapped on Slate.
"Simply when I presented the truth and facts, it was very easy to see who was telling the truth," Slate said.
Slate has engaged in a very public dispute with Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Manager Jeremy Dixon over the refuge's trapping of feral and free-roaming cats.
Dixon says the cats are coming from nearby residential areas, such as Slate's Loquat Drive home, and entering the refuge where they are killing federally protected Key Largo woodrats.
Slate, though, accuses Dixon of trapping cats near homes, not inside the refuge.
Dixon's efforts have split community animal lovers. Some feed and want the island's feral cats to continue to roam freely, while others say the cats are harming native and migratory wildlife.
According to Dixon, Slate was offered and refused an opportunity to secure his cats without having to pay a fine. Slate, though, denies such an offer was made.
Slate told the Free Press last week he intends to get Dixon fired or transferred from his post. So far, Slate is the only resident who has been fined for having cats on the refuge.
Dixon has also said cats from the private Ocean Reef Club are coming onto the refuge.
This prompted meetings between Dixon's supervisors and club officials, which has resulted in Dixon driving any stray Ocean Reef cats back to the gated community.
Dixon did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story.