Hillsborough commissioners approve trap, neuter and release program for cats

5:55 PM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Along Ellicott Street in Tampa, birds perched high in the shadowing oaks burst with song.

"I get up in the morning, I've got red-headed woodpeckers, robins, blue jays," says resident Sylvia Parry gazing upward.

But plenty of cats also lurk along Ellicott. Some of them are already part of a trap, neuter and release program and cared for by Humane Society volunteers.

"I adore cats and would never hurt one," says Parry. "But it's pretty much out of control. They're constantly stalking the birds."

Those were just a few of the competing interests coming to a head Wednesday at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting, as the head of animal services outlined plans for a trap, neuter and release -- or TNR program -- for cats.

"This is an interim solution to a large problem in our community," Ian Hallett told commissioners. 

It's been estimated there are 200,000 wild cats in the county.

The two-year pilot program put forth by Hallett would allow the trapping of 2,000 cats a year. They'd be sterilized, vaccinated for rabies and then released. It's similar to a program already run by the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and like that one, volunteers would help care for and monitor the cat colonies.

Dozens of TNR supporters wearing bright-green T-shirts filled the seats of the commission chambers. They say TNR is a way to stabilize feral cat populations and reduce shelter kill rates.

"We simply want to save these cats lives. They didn't ask for what happened to them and they need to have better care," says Nance McCall, a Humane Society employee.

However, critics say returning cats to life in the wild is not all that humane. There they are subject to disease, hunger and injury.

National wildlife and bird groups also oppose TNR, because feral cats kill native wildlife. A new U.S. Wildlife Service study estimates outdoor cats in the U.S. kill more than a billion birds a year.

"I'm not convinced that substituting the life of one cat for hundreds of other animals that they might kill is an adequate fix of the problem," Commissioner Victor Crist stated, before voting no on the measure.

However, Crist was the lone objector and when the other five commissioners approved TNR, they received not cat-calls, but cheers.

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