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We can all agree on this: Irresponsible pet ownership is the real killer

This may sound a little extreme, but I don't think it would be bad idea for all school kids to see their local animal services departments systematically euthanize unwanted dogs and cats.

Not when the tykes are too young, of course, but maybe we can work it into the middle school curriculum, along with the lessons about civics and other standard governmental functions — because this is surely one of them.

And all of us also need to view the University of Georgia's gallery of "kitty cam" videos and still photographs showing cats hunting down lizards, chipmunks and birds.

"I think that's an Eastern phoebe," Grant Sizemore of the American Bird Conservancy said Thursday as he displayed a cat's-eye view of a lifeless clump of feathers.

Sizemore was in Brooksville speaking to the Hernando Audubon Society about the conservancy's Cats Indoors program, which means he was speaking out against the increasingly popular method of dealing with feral cats: trap, neuter, vaccinate and return them to the wild.

Naturally, he cited the recent, blockbuster report from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimating that cats killed a median of 2.4 billion birds in this country per year.

Outdoor cats are also the primary carrier of a terrifying parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis. Scientists once thought the risk of this bug was mostly confined to babies. Increasingly, though, evidence shows it may live in the brains of adults for years, contributing to a range of mental health disorders, including depression and schizophrenia.

Among the many other diseases spread by outdoor cats is the old standard — rabies. There's good reason that cats have far surpassed dogs as carriers of the disease, Sizemore said. We don't let dogs run free.

Finally, there's this argument against trap-neuter-return programs: They don't work.

Advocates of TNR often point to research showing that the method gradually reduces the populations of feral cat colonies.

Sizemore cited studies showing the opposite — that enough unneutered cats find their way into colonies of treated cats to keep their populations growing.

If it's irresponsible to allow pet cats to roam free, it seems obvious to me that it's extremely irresponsible to maintain and feed — and, yes, many if not most feral cats are fed — large colonies of feral cats.

It also seems obvious that Pasco County made a mistake by allying its animals services department with a group that performs TNR and that Hernando should steer clear of that direction.

But there's only one problem with advocating against TNR. Its leave you advocating for the killing of kitties — at least unless things change.

Which brings us to something that people on both sides of this polarizing issue agree upon. The underlying cause of the vast number of cat and bird deaths is irresponsible pet ownership.

Spay and neuter your cats. Keep them indoors. Otherwise — and somehow, some way everybody needs to know this — it's not the cats and unfortunate animal services workers who are the real killers.

You are.

We can all agree on this: Irresponsible pet ownership is the real killer 10/28/13 [Last modified: Monday, October 28, 2013 7:10pm]

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