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Sherry Silk: Truth About Feral Cats
Sherry Silk
executive director, Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Truth About Feral Cats

One hundred years ago, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay was established to lend a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Today, we continue to lead that charge as we speak for the most marginalized of domesticated animals, the “community” (also known as feral) cat.

Community cats are those who have been raised in the wild or have been abandoned or lost and reverted to wild ways in order to survive. While some tolerate a bit of human contact, most are not socialized to people and will not approach even the most well-meaning human. They live in groups called colonies and make their homes near shelter and food sources.

Community cats have lived successfully alongside humans for 10,000 years, protected and appreciated by many cultures for providing rodent control around crops and barns. However, in the modern age of urban living, their presence is not as well tolerated.

For years, animal control facilities have sought to decrease feral cat populations by practicing “Catch & Kill” where cats are rounded up and euthanized.  But they have found that as soon as one colony of cats is removed another moves in, continues to reproduce and the cycle continues. Not only is Catch & Kill inhumane and costly to taxpayers, but it does not address the root of the problem, reproduction.

Since 2007, Hillsborough County has practiced a proven, effective alternative known as Trap/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return.

TNVR involves volunteers who humanely trap colonies and bring them to low-cost, non-profit spay/neuter facilities such as the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Animal Coalition of Tampa. The cats are spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and feline distemper, and ear tipped -- the universal sign that a feral cat has been sterilized -- all at no cost to taxpayers. After a brief recovery period, they are returned to their colonies where a volunteer colony caretaker provides food and shelter and monitors their health. The cats are free to live their lives, but because they no longer reproduce the populations stabilize.

In the past five years, TNVR has helped Hillsborough County Animal Services decrease their cat intake rate by 35 percent and lower their euthanasia rate by 46 percent. TNVR works.

Unfortunately, there are some in our community who are calling for an end to TNVR. They cite concern for the safety of children, the spread of rabies and disease, and threat to wildlife.

We answer simply:

  • Feral cats will not attack a child, they avoid humans.
  • From 2001-2011 there were only 29 confirmed cases of rabies in humans in the U.S. and none of those were known to have come from cats. Furthermore, the CDC reports that there have been no confirmed cases of cat-to-human rabies since 1995.
  • Research shows that feral cats are just as healthy as pet cats with an equally low incidence of disease.
  • Studies show that the declining numbers of birds and wildlife are caused by habitat loss, urbanization, pollution and environmental degradation, not cats. And, TNVR results in fewer cats, which should encourage bird watchers.

Now is the time to speak up. Tell your county commissioners to support TNVR in Hillsborough County.

Share our vision that every life counts.

Sherry Silk is the executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

Published Monday, September 24, 2012