UPDATE: The Hillsborough Commission has approved a program spay and neuter stray cats and then re-release them in the county.
Tampa, Florida -- Hillsborough County commissioners will talk about lowering the number of animals killed in shelters in a meeting Wednesday morning.
They'll listen to several proposals, including one controversial idea practiced by animal shelters around the country: releasing stray cats after they're brought in to be fixed.
Supporters say it's so much better to snip feral cats and set them loose, than to send them off to die. But folks on the other side say the issue is not nearly that simple.
Commissioners will debate whether the county's animal shelter can start its own "trap-neuter-release" pilot program for cats. A handful of nonprofit groups already do it in the county.
Healthy stray cats that are brought in would be neutered and then released back into the colony where they were found.
It's part of a 60-point plan to cut the number of dogs and cats euthanized by Hillsborough County Animal Services each year. The number currently stands at more than 10,000.
For every three animals that go into their shelter, right now only one will leave for a new home. Supporters of Trap-Neuter-Release say stopping stray cats from breeding is one of the only ways to make a real dent in that number.
"If a cat is in good health, that means that it is receiving support from somebody in the community," Animal Services Director Ian Hallett said.
"And rather than just taking that cat and euthanizing it, the idea is to give it a vaccination against rabies and prevent it from making more cats in the community."
Opponents say shelters and, yes, euthanasia are the only realistic way to deal with large feral cat colonies.
They include bird lovers, who say the county's perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 feral cats are wiping out native wildlife.
And also some veterinarians who point out semi-wild cats are prone to disease like rabies and hookworms which cause serious harm in humans.
"All of those types of diseases are real problems with these cats," said veterinarian Dr. Katie Thompson.
"And we love cats -- that's why I have so many cats, I love cats -- but we also have to recognize that they do spread disease and they kill massive numbers of wildlife."
More than 70 cities in the U.S. have programs like this, often called "Community Cats," following a concept pioneered in Jacksonville.
Advocates say they really do work over time, shrinking the number of cats in the wild and the number coming into shelters.
Hillsborough County commissioners will debate whether fixing cats will fix some of the county's issues with stray animals starting at 10:45 Wednesday morning at the County Center building in Downtown Tampa.
Grayson Kamm, 10 News