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TARPON MANAGING CATS HUMANELY

Re: Attention turns to strays,story, Feb. 1

Finally! One city in Pinellas is trying to do what Pinellas County will not: Allow these feral/stray cats to live.

Tarpon Springs has a large number of stray and feral cats and it seems fitting that Tarpon Springs be the first city in Pinellas County to buck Pinellas County Animal Service's trap and "remove" policy. I am still on the fence regarding Trap-Neuter-Return programs, but I believe that something needs to be done to address the issue of feral cats rather than simply rounding them up and euthanizing them.

Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is a generally accepted program across the nation and in many other countries. While an unmanaged feral colony does pose risks for the cats and humans, a managed colony limits those risks.

In a managed colony, the cats are sterilized, checked for feline leukemia and feline AIDS, given vaccines (including rabies) and receive an ear "tip."

The caretaker bears the responsibilities for feeding and getting medical care for the cats in his/her colony. These folks also watch for new cats joining the colony so that they, too, can be spayed or neutered. Finally, the caretakers pull and adopt out socialized (stray) cats and kittens.

Trap-and-remove methods have certainly proved ineffective in Tarpon Springs. Despite the loss of feral cats to predators, disease and cars, the problem continues to worsen, not improve. No matter how many cats succumb to these dangers, other cats move in to take their place.

Finally, while cats do prey on unsuspecting wildlife, they are opportunistic eaters that will scavenge through trash and attack rats rather than birds (rats are easier to catch). One study in San Francisco attributed the bird population decline to loss of habitat, pollution and weather rather than to the feral cats.

Once again, my congratulations to the enlightened city of Tarpon Springs for addressing this issue in a humane way.

Karen Severiens,Dunedin

Re: Attention turns to strays,story, Feb. 1

Proper program would solve issue

While I appreciate this coverage, I would like to clarify and add what I think are important issues that were overlooked. While I am not an expert, I have attended seminars dealing with the Trap-Neuter-Return/Release approach.

Tarpon Springs Commissioner Robin Saenger and I have been speaking about this problem for some time. When I first approached her, I didn't realize that Tarpon Springs is under the county umbrella and therefore must follow their ordinance, which clearly states that cats must be kept inside or be on a leash.

While this makes sense to some, it doesn't solve the current problem. What can solve the problem, or help solve it, is a properly run program that involves trap, neuter and return, or TNR.

One very important item that was left out of this story is that there must be a caretaker involved. In other words, you have a person feeding cats. They are willing to continue feeding them once they are captured, spayed or neutered and then released. There is a systematic approach, and I do believe that it works.

1) The cats are identified by markings and sex.

2) They are then trapped and delivered to a vet. Obviously, some may need to be humanely euthanized if they are very sick.

3) The cats are kept in their traps or crates while they recover.

4) They are immunized.

5) Their ears are snipped to identify that they have been fixed.

6) They are returned to their colony and caretaker.

It is not the intention of this program to just randomly trap a cat, neuter or spay, then throw it back into the wild.

Once these cats are neutered or spayed, it is amazing to watch their health return as they stop fighting, they are not chasing females and they begin to take better care of themselves.

If the county does not want to change the ordinance, perhaps it could consider exempting feral colonies that are controlled from the anti-roaming law. This would enable caretakers to continue on without the threat of being fined and the cats seized. Due to natural attrition and the fact that the cats can no longer reproduce, the colonies will reduce in size.

Yes, cats sometimes kill other animals. Why is that? Humans have bird feeders and birdbaths, which do make animals an easy target. I do have a feeder, however, I have dogs, so cats never venture into my yard. If I had a problem I would remove the feeder.

As I said in the article, they are out there anyway, why not try and solve a problem with a bit of compassion and ingenuity rather than automatically euthanize an animal just because it doesn't have an indoor home?

Nancy Dively, Tarpon Springs

Re: Attention turns to strays,story, Feb. 1

Cats not natives? Neither are we

Regarding stray cats, the assistant director of veterinary services for Pinellas Animal Services says that "cats are not native to the Florida ecosystem and thus don't belong in it." Stray cats, he says hurt "other species they hunt, such as birds."

Two points.

First, humans are not native to the Florida ecosystem. They also, for example, kill birds - an eagle was shot recently - and animals - a llama was beaten to death at Gaither High School. These are two recent egregious examples of humans hurting other species.

Second, please tell us how an animal becomes "native" to Florida. Is it some kind of intelligent design resulting in spontaneous creation?

Bill Hodges,Tarpon Springs

Re: Attention turns to strays,story, Feb. 1

Studies support strays program

Kudos to Tarpon Springs Commissioner Robin Saenger for her bold approach to what has heretofore been an intractable and ongoing problem. Pinellas County Animal Control's solution of trapping and euthanizing has not been successful, as evidenced by the proliferation of cats everywhere.

You can't wipe out the presence of feral cats in an area in which new, unneutered cats are constantly being abandoned or lost and then reproducing. Only Trap-Neuter-Return, through sterilization and colony management, can reduce the numbers, which is why it is supported by every major humane organization in the country.

The killing is senseless and not cost effective. It is estimated that 25 percent of animal control budgets go into nuisance cat calls, trapping, sheltering and euthanasia. This money can be better spent through a Trap-Neuter-Return program that has been demonstrated to work - contrary to the misinformed assertion by Welch Agnew, assistant director of veterinary services for Pinellas Animal Services, that he has "never seen a scientific study proving the efficiency of such a program in controlling cat population." He can check San Diego, CA, and Maricopa County, AZ.

In 1992, the San Diego Department of Animal Control euthanized 15,525 cats at a cost of $121 per cat. That year, Feral Cat Coalition San Diego, a private volunteer organization, began aggressive spay/neuter programs. By 1998, the number of animals killed each year dropped more than 45 percent, with a tax savings of $859,221.

Maricopa County spends $61 to trap, hold and euthanize one feral cat, versus $22.50 to spay or neuter and return a cat. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control encourages communities to adopt TNR by passing associated costs along to them.

Google "feral cat TNR studies" and one will find documented study after study on the proven results of TNR.

Marilyn Weaver,Tarpon Springs

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