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Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Ensuring a safer future for the furry, feathered and us

The new Hillsborough County Animal Services director is presenting a plan to the county commission on May 1 to reduce the euthanasia rate at our county shelter. As veterinarians, we are excited about any ideas that will responsibly lower our euthanasia rate. However, the plan as written ignores health department warnings and endangers our public health, as well as jeopardizes our diverse wildlife and ecosystem. We have carefully documented our concerns, the details of which can be read here: www.hahf.org/awake/the-trouble-with-trap-vaccinate-neuter-return. As animal experts, we have continued to ask Animal Services leaders two simple questions that to date have not been answered:
How can you implement “community cat” TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) over the objections of the Florida Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association, pediatric and other human doctors, and your local veterinarian medical association? If you implement a feral cat release program, where are these 2,000 cats (and lots more going forward) going to be placed? The 2012 Rabies Guide was written by a task force from our own Florida Department of Health. The task force included doctors, for humans and animals, as well as virologists, epidemiologists, microbiologists and other credentialed people. Those experts had this to say about the topic: “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. … Children are among the highest risk for disease transmission from these cats. … Allowing cats to roam free is not in the best interests of the community’s health and deliberate release or abandonment of feral or domestic cats is not sanctioned under Florida’s conservation and cruelty laws.” What does Animal Services know that the scientific multi-disciplinary task force of experts from the great state of Florida doesn’t know? The director of Animal Services said recently he is “trying to balance the public health concerns with that of the cat.” We freely admit this is an emotionally charged topic, but balancing the public health concerns with those of the cat is not a rational debate. Our children and our citizens must come first in this balance. Hillsborough County veterinarians have developed a better solution for feral cats called “TENVAC” (Trap-Evaluate-Neuter-Vaccinate-Adopt-Contain). We observe that TENVAC in many ways matches the proposed county plan with one critical exception: the “C” representing containment. What is vital is that TENVAC anticipates the impossibility of “containing” all feral cats. However, when it comes to the placement, TENVAC demands a careful analysis that ensures cat colonies are not located near schools, hospitals, parks, beaches and other high risk areas. See page 7 of the plan for the details concerning placement and colony restrictions. It is important to note the restrictive boundaries that are proposed as part of TENVAC do not require mass euthanasia or cost taxpayer dollars as TNR supporters erroneously claim. TENVAC takes the best ideas of the American Veterinary Medical Association feral cat position statement, as well as ideas from the Florida Animal Control Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health. Those policies and ideas have been blended into a program that addresses all the issues feral cats present. Best of all, by utilizing TENVAC, we can ensure that feral cats are carefully monitored, health impacts determined, and long-standing public health policies are not overturned. Veterinarians are extremely uncomfortable with free-ranging colonies. However, with containment restrictions as defined by TENVAC and a “pilot” project approach, perhaps careful monitoring and analysis can help in pointing our community toward long-term solutions that are safe and effective. We note that TENVAC is a part of the overall program developed by veterinarians to begin addressing the long-term challenge of pet over-population. “AWAKE!” is our public relations campaign to answer the animal challenges in Hillsborough and Florida. Our plan doesn’t endanger the public health or our native wildlife. By focusing on AWAKE! (Animal Welfare, Adoptions, Kids Health and Education), we can ensure a healthier tomorrow for everyone — human, furry and feathered!

Don Thompson is executive director of the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. Christy Layton is president of the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society.

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