There are over 200,000 feral cats living in Hillsborough County. According to Hillsborough County Animal Services’ monthly report for June 2012, 10,569 cats entered their facility in the last twelve months with the majority of the cats being identified as feral or stray. Of the over ten thousand cats that entered, over 80% of them were euthanized.
“If you’re a cat and you live in Hillsborough County and you end up at animal services, unfortunately your chances of being euthanized is over 80%; because there’s just too many of them”, states Sherry Silk, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
Therefore, one would assume any assistance in helping to reduce that number by preventing further breeding would be welcomed and encouraged into the community.
However, that is not the case with a group of veterinarians from the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation (HAHF) and the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society (HCVMS).
The groups are campaigning against current sterilization programs called Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TVNR or TNR), a program that has been implemented for almost ten years in Hillsborough County.
In November 2011, the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution accepting TNVR as the best program to control cat population humanely and effectively.
Other leading experts agree, such as the Humane Society of the United States, as demonstrated in their video, “Feral Cats.”
The HAHF wishes to change that by requesting the Board of Hillsborough County Commissioners propose a ban on TNR programs.
Efforts are being led by veterinarian Dr. Katie Thompson of the Veterinary Center of Fishhawk located in Lithia.
Two of the organizations leading the TVNR programs are the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and the Animal Coalition of Tampa Bay (ACT). They work closely with rescue groups, citizens and Hillsborough County Animal Services by accepting feral cats to provide low cost spay, neuter and vaccination for rabies and feline distemper.
Overall, only about two percent of feral cats are sterilized, according to a study of seven trap-neuter-return programs in the United States from the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
Feral cats usually come from “cat colonies” where they are fed, monitored and cared for by one or more individuals.
Cats are brought to the clinics by rescue groups or caring citizens that have trapped the cats so they may be spayed, neutered, vaccinated and returned to the area where they were originally trapped.
It is the returning of the cats to their colonies that the HAHF and HCVM want to see outlawed. That and the fact the county is proposing a county approved and funded TNR program.
The HAHF proposes their alternative solutions to the “return” portion of TNR on their website. Here it suggests cats should be adopted or contained in shelters with land donated by the county and funded through tag fees and donations.
TNR advocates say the real reasons the HAHF and the HCVMS want to see an end to TNR programs all comes down to profits veterinarians feel they lose from residents frequenting low cost clinics instead of coming to them.
The issue is outlined in depth at the blog HAHF Truths, HAHF Measures, Full Price: http://www.voxfelina.com/2012/09/hillsborough-animal-health-foundation-a…
TNR advocates further state the groups are coming up with other seemingly practical reasons to mask the true objective they are against it by exaggerating the concerns with baseless science and spreading unnecessary fear.
In fact, in their July 30, 2012 newsletter, HAHF calls for a rally in efforts to stand against TNR, stating that feral cats pose a public safety issue that causes people, especially children, to be susceptible to catching rabies and toxoplasmosis.
Yet, according the CDC (Center for Disease Control), between 2001- 2011, only 29 confirmed cases of rabies were reported in the U.S. and none were from cats. Additionally, there has only been one case of cat-to-human rabies, and that was in 1975.
However, HAHF cites the Florida Department of Health’s 2012 Rabies report which states: “The concept of managing free-roaming/feral domestic cats is not tenable on public health grounds because of the persistent threat posed to communities from injury and disease. While the risk for disease transmission from cats to people is generally low when these animals are maintained indoors and routinely cared for, free-roaming cats pose a continuous concern to communities. Children are among the highest risk for disease transmission from these cats.”
TNR Advocates refute the risk to humans due to feral cats’ unsociability and fear of humans. Additionally, TNR is a safeguard against the spread of rabies.
Other concerns listed on HAHF’s website state that feral cats are a threat to wildlife and that TNR doesn’t work.
However, TNR advocates states cats are being used as a scapegoat and concerns for wildlife are unfounded. They cite habitat loss, pollution and environmental degradation as the true cause for a decline in birds and wildlife, not cats.
As far as TNR not working and being detrimental to wildlife, advocates of TNR state the more cats that are trapped, spayed and neutered and vaccinated, the less cats there are posing a threat.
Further, statistics for the last five years show that since TVNR has been in affect, it has decreased Hillsborough County’s cat intake rate by 35% and lowered their euthanasia rate by an incredible 46%.
Collectively, the Humane Society of Tampa and the Animal Coalition of Tampa spayed, neutered and vaccinated 33, 000 cats; all at no cost to tax payers.
Linda Hamilton, Executive Director of ACT, stated in an email reply: “This community has been practicing TNR in Hillsborough County for over 6 years. Over 33,000 cats have been TNR’d with the help of the Animal Coalition of Tampa and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and all the rescue groups working with the shelter. This hard work directly lowers the cat euthanasia rate by about 8,000 each year at Hillsborough County Animal Services because these cats never enter the shelter to begin with.”
Earlier in the year, in an effort to minimize the county’s use of euthanasia, the Commissioner’s directed Animal Services to conduct a comprehensive assessment of current policies and come up with a financially viable plan.
As a result, the County Administrator developed a task force that includes the already established ten-member Animal Advisory Committee (AAC) and three members of the public that will be selected by the AAC.
At the top of their list of issues to address is the TNVR issue. Along with TNVR, the task force will be discussing all aspects of animal sheltering with experts in the field.
Interestingly, Dr. Katie Thompson was appointed by the Veterinary Medical Society (VMS) to serve on the Animal Advisory Board in June of this year and serves with two other members of the VMS.
The HAHF states they have already gained the support of the Department of Health, Chambers of Commerce, pediatricians, attorneys and wildlife organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and The Audubon Society.
But TNR advocates have rallied overwhelming support with a petition created by Cat Crusaders in early August. The petition already has a whopping 11, 665 signatures to date and will be delivered to the County Commissioners.
Cat Crusaders and St. Francis Rescue are also hosting a Facebook page which show 584 “likes” since the page was created.
To sum up the importance of keeping the TNR programs, Sherry Silk stated, “TNR is the only tool that we currently have that will lower the birth rate of the hundreds of thousands of cats that live in Hillsborough County. Whether you like cats or not, TNR works because it means less cats. We have had a successful, nationally recognized TNR program for the last 10 years and it has been proven to lower the intake and euthanasia rate at Hillsborough County Animal Services.”
The AAC will meet to discuss the TNR issue on September 19, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the County Center.
The AAC meetings are open to public comment and residents are encouraged to attend. The AAC meeting will be televised on HTV22 for those that cannot attend.
Hillsborough County Animal Services encourages residents to spay and neuter their pets by offering Spay and Neuter vouchers. If you are a resident of Hillsborough County and would like to take advantage of the program, please visit their site here for details:
To voice your support of TNR programs in Hillsborough County, please sign the petition here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/771/522/272/saving-tnr-saving-community-cats/
To keep updated on the issue, please visit and “like” the Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/SavingTnrSavingCommunityCats