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Monday, Apr 21, 2014
Steve Otto

Otto: Trap, neuter and release a risky proposition

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At the heart of the anger and animosity currently in place at the Hillsborough Animal Services shelter is the reaction to a program called “Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TNVR or TNR).’’

After much discussion and despite strong opposition, the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution accepting the program as a way of controlling the feral cat population in the county.

It is estimated there are more than 200,000 feral cats in the county.

Proponents, such as Animal Services Director Ian Hallett, say the program is the only way to put a “big dent’’ in the number of unwanted cats that are euthanized.

But many veterinarians are strongly opposed. Dr. Katie Thompson, a highly respected vet out in FishHawk, says there are significant problems and that cats are hosts for the parasites that cause toxoplasmosis, which is the leading cause of deaths attributed to foodborne illness in the United States.

“The idea,’’ she says, “that you can feed and come into contact with feral cats just because they have been vaccinated once and not risk everything from toxoplasmosis to rabies is frightening.

“The commissioners have, in effect, sent out a mixed message. When there is a rabies alert, they say not to approach outdoor animals, which is the right thing to say. Now they’ve gone and done the opposite, telling people it is all right to make contact with cats that you know nothing about. I almost feel like telling the commissioners to start feeding the cats outside their own doors. It is a ridiculous policy. I know this is a difficult issue because people are sensitive about animals. I am to. I love cats. But this isn’t a popularity contest.

“You know, veterinarians don’t have anything to gain or lose. The public relies on us to give them good public health advice, not something that will make them feel better.

“An analogy might be that people like to build bridges. The civil engineer advises them that the bridge will collapse, but they build it anyhow ... and the bridge collapses. I mean if they want a popularity contest, do something else. People like to speed, so let’s change the speed limits to make them happy.’’

It’s a tough debate. Closer to home we’ve taken in two feral cats after the Frau insisted on feeding them. They’ve been to the vets and are now part of the family.

But I think Thompson is correct and the idea of TNR is risky, not just for the wildlife population but especially for the public, who might believe these cat colonies are safe places to feed and handle animals.

Reader: Trouble at Pasco shelter

Meanwhile, there was this letter from Marilon F. : “ Hey Steve, can you expand your articles to include the Pasco Animal Shelter (using that term loosely). They are in sad shape, too. Killing healthy animals in the field. Refusing to take animals, even with room. Not following new rules set in place to keep the shelter in better shape. I believe the workers are more interested in their breaks and yak sessions than doing their jobs. I do not know who to go to for help, but somebody needs to clean house and start over.’’

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