2012 No More Homeless Pets Conference—Some Highlights

I’m only now starting to catch my breath (nowhere close to catching up on my sleep!) after this year’s No More Homeless Pets Conference in Las Vegas (video highlights here). Among the numerous attendees and presenters I was able to spend time with (too little in every case) were* Bonney Brown, executive director of the Nevada Humane Society; Jackson Galaxy, star of My Cat From Hell and author of Cat Daddy;Frank Hamilton, co-founder and president of the Animal Coalition of Tampa; Dr. Ellen Jefferson, executive director of Austin Pets Alive!; Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy for the Humane Society of the United States; Christi Metropole, founder and executive director of Stray Cat Alliance; Dr. Jeff Newman, co-founder and director of Caring Hands Animal Support and Education; Becky Robinson, co-founder and president of Alley Cat Allies; Christie Rogero, targeted spay/neuter manager for the Animal Welfare Association; Holly Sizemore director of community programs and services for Best Friends; Lori Weise, founder and director of Downtown Dog Rescue; and, last but certainly not least, longtime friends Bob Miegl and Corinne Mitchell from PAWS of Coronado.

I also had the opportunity to chat (again, too briefly) with Best Friends co-founders Francis Battista, Judah Battista, Gregory Castle, and Faith Maloney. Congratulations one and all on an informative, inspirational event—and thank you for inviting me to participate!

Taking It to the Street (Cats): Grassroots Advocacy for Community Cats—which I had the honor of presenting alongside Laura Nirenberg, legislative attorney for Best Friends’ Focus on Felines campaign, and Lisa Tudor, Director of Development and Outreach for the Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia (FACE) and founder and executive director of IndyFeral—was a great success. Many thanks to all who attended—your commitment to the stray, abandoned, and feral cats in your communities is an inspiration.

Two of the most memorable take-aways:

  • Phase 2 of Best Friends’ NKLA initiative, launched earlier this year, will include a program aimed specifically at saving kittens under eight weeks of age (of which, we were told, approximately 7,000 are killed in the L.A. shelter system each year).
  • The remarkable success of San José’s Feral Freedom program. Jon Cicirelli, deputy director of San José Animal Care and Services, shared with us some very impressive data—which I hope to make the focus of a future post.

Unfortunately, many attendees’ plans were disrupted by Hurricane Sandy, forcing some of leave early while others were stranded in Las Vegas. My thoughts go out to all of those in Sandy’s path, as well as the various animals—owned and unowned alike—in their care.

* I know even as I type this out that I’m overlooking people—my apologies!

2012 No More Homeless Pets Conference Begins Today!

Looking forward to seeing old friends and making some new ones, too.

Hope to see you there!

Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation’s Appeal for Support

I almost feel sorry for Don Thompson and his colleagues at the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. After all, it can’t be easy to recruit others in the local veterinary community when you’re essentially asking them to alienate themselves from a large segment of their clientele—and the public in general. The sharp distinction that HAHF draws between pet cats (which, presumably, are to receive top-notch vet services) and unowned cats (the vast majority of which are, apparently, to be rounded up and killed) is simply incomprehensible to many (most?) people.

Ignoring “Science and Fact”

In an e-newsletter sent out yesterday (with the headline Why the Veterinary Community is Needed!) from HAHF and the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society, Thompson and his colleagues tried to rally the troops by going after Sherry Silk, executive director of the Tampa Bay Humane Society. This, in response to her recent opinion piece in Florida Voices defending TNR.

“Ms. Silk’s letter demonstrates the need for the local veterinary community to be involved in ongoing county discussions regarding animal issues,” reads the unsigned appeal from HAHF/HCVMS. “As the director of HSTB Ms. Silk continues to ignore science and fact, even while the Humane Society has a prominent role in formulating county animal policies.”

So now Thompson & Co. have “science and fact” on their side? Hardly.

One obvious sign: their newsletter repeats the now-standard drivel about Kerrie Anne Loyd’s Kitty Cam research: all the alarmist, out-of-context, meaningless “results” and no mention of the fact that 55 cats—observed for a total of about 2,000 hours—were responsible for killing just five birds. (There is, not surprisingly, also a link to the American Bird Conservancy’s August 6 press release about the Kitty Cam study. So much for “science and fact.”)

I don’t want to speak for Silk, but can’t help responding to the question posed by HAHF/HCVMS: Is the video evidence insufficient for Ms. Silk?

Yes, the video (from which, to my knowledge, only still images have been made public) is insufficient—to anybody familiar with the research and with the larger issues involved. Indeed, as I’ve pointed out previously, Loyd herself found the evidence less than compelling, admitting to CBS Atlanta in an interview earlier this year: “Cats aren’t as bad as biologists thought.” [1]

Not the sort of “science and fact” Thompson & Co. care for, I guess.

Rabies and “Cat Attacks”

Like ABC, HAHF/HCVMS continues its scaremongering about rabies. Although I addressed the topic in detail in Part 2 of my original HAHF series—and again last week—it’s worth revisiting the subject in light of some of the claims being made by HAHF/HCVMS.

There were, explain Thompson & Co. in yesterday’s newsletter, “455 cat attacks in Florida in 2010, the last year data is available.” But, as the Florida Department of Health report from which this figure was taken explains, this is a reference to the number of “possible exposure cases.”

“Rabies [post-exposure prophylaxis] is recommended when an individual is bitten, scratched, or has mucous membrane or fresh wound contact with the saliva or nervous tissue of a laboratory-confirmed rabid animal, or a suspected rabid animal that is not available for testing.” [2]

Multiple “possible exposure cases” can result from interaction with a single animal—whether confirmed rabid or merely suspected of being rabid. If, as HAHF/HCVMS claims, there were, on average, nearly nine “cat attacks” in the state every week for all of 2010, one would expect to see hundreds of related news stories. A quick check of 38 Florida newspapers reveals a relative handful.

It’s true, as HAHF points out (more or less) on its website, that 2010 PEP incidents were up 41 percent over the previous five-year average. But, as the Florida DOH report explains:

“This increase in PEP may be due to improved reporting, increased exposures to possible rabid animals, increased inappropriate or unnecessary use of PEP, or a combination of factors. Reductions in state and local resources may contribute to increases in inappropriate or unnecessary use of PEP by decreasing resources to investigate animal exposures and confirm animal health status, and by reducing county health department staff time to provide regular rabies PEP education for health care providers.” [2]

But there’s another factor related to the “unnecessary use of PEP,” which occurs, according to a study of “11 geographically diverse [across the U.S.] university-affiliated, urban emergency departments” [3] in about 40 percent of the cases documented: “media hysteria.” [4] Make no mistake: HAHF/HCVMS, with their ongoing campaign of scaremongering, is becoming part of the problem. As if to prove the point, there’s this from their newsletter:

“The reason there have been no human rabies cases from feral cats is because we use rabies vaccines in the event of bites! 30,000 people got Rabies shots in 2010 in the U.S. to prevent Rabies—but according to Ms. Silk the bites from cat attacks are not a concern?  Should we skip the shots and see what happens? Rabies is 100 percent fatal! Fifteen feral cats were proven to have rabies in Florida in 2010—is it worth gambling a child’s life to see if the number of cat-to-human rabies increases?”

Ah, yes—I’d almost forgotten: this is all about protecting the children. And how will a ban on TNR and the feeding of outdoor cats make those children safer?

If HAHF/HCVMS get their way, the threat of rabies will only increase (along with the number of unowned cats in the community, and the number of cats killed by Hillsborough County Animal Services—which has an abysmal track record as it is). And yet, they have the gall to accuse Silk of “faulty logic” for defending TNR (and close their newsletter with the arrogant assertion: “It is obvious our leadership is badly needed in Hillsborough County.”).

•     •     •

The timing of the HAHF/HCVMS newsletter was hardly accidental. Just two days earlier was the first meeting of a taskforce charged, as Ian Hallett, director of Hillsborough County Animal Services, described in an August 7 memo, with “conduct[ing] a comprehensive assessment of best practices resulting in a financially feasible plan to minimize our county’s use of animal euthanasia.”

What better time for some more propaganda to both distract and rally the troops, some of whom are no doubt acutely aware of last week’s unanimous decision by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (less than 500 miles away) to reject a proposed rule change that targeted non-profit spay/neuter clinics? The Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association may have used different tactics (i.e., “concern” for the care of the animals treated at low-cost clinics), but they seem to share what many of us believe to be the true goal of HAHF/HCVMS: to eliminate their low-cost competition.

Which, no matter how you disguise it, is a pretty tough sell to a community of animal lovers (which is to say, any community). No wonder Thompson would rather talk about “cat attacks.”

Literature Cited

1. Paluska, M. (2012) Kitty cameras show Athens cats on the prowlhttp://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/17711012/kitty-cameras-show-athens-cats-on-the-prowl

2. n.a., 2010 Florida Morbidity Statistics Report. 2011, Florida Department of Health, Division of Disease Control, Bureau of Epidemiology: Tallahassee, FL. http://www.doh.state.fl.us/disease_ctrl/epi/Morbidity_Report/2010/2010_AMR.pdf

3. Moran, G.J., et al., “Appropriateness of rabies postexposure prophylaxis treatment for animal exposures. Emergency ID Net Study Group.” Journal of the American Medical Association. 2000. 284(8): p. 1001–1007. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=193015

4. Noah, D.L., et al., “Mass human exposure to rabies in New Hampshire: exposures, treatment, and cost.” American Journal of Public Health. 1996. 86(8): p. 1149–51. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8712277

Catster Hero

National Feral Cat Day 2012 was memorable for a number of reasons—including the great honor of being named a Catster Hero. Many thanks to Catster news editor (and founder of the Paws and Effect blog) JaneA Kelley, who, well… made me look heroic.

National Feral Cat Day 2012

It’s National Feral Cat Day—what better occasion to recognize some of the positive developments in feral cat/TNR advocacy I’ve observed over the past two-and-a-half years since launching Vox Felina?

Alley Cat Allies

National Feral Cat Day debuted in 2001, created by Alley Cat Allies “to raise awareness about feral cats, promote Trap-Neuter-Return, and recognize the millions of compassionate Americans who care for them.” As of yesterday, ACA had registered 368 events for this year’s celebration, and they were still hearing from activists eager to get on board. All 50 states are represented, and events are going on in other countries as well.

Nearly 300 groups applied for National Feral Cat Day Community Impact Awards; 22 winners received $1,000 each, while 16 runner-ups received $500 each. For additional details, check out the ACA website.

Best Friends Animal Society

It was just about two years ago that Best Friends (wisely!) hired Laura Nirenberg as legislative attorney for their Focus on Felines campaign. I’m honored to be joining Laura, along with Lisa Tudor, Director of Development and Outreach for the Foundation Against Companion-Animal Euthanasia (FACE), at the upcoming No More Homeless Pets Conference as we present Taking It to the Street (Cats): Grassroots Advocacy for Community Cats.

The Humane Society of the United States

Another reason I’m looking forward to this year’s conference: meeting Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy for HSUS. This, of course, was the position that Michael Hutchins, former executive director/CEO of The Wildlife Society, referred to as “wild bird executioner” in his August 16, 2011 blog post. While Katie and I have yet to officially meet, it’s difficult not to like—automatically—anybody whose hiring got Hutchins so agitated.

National Animal Control Association

Although TNR is still not endorsed by the entire animal control community, there seems to be a significant shift in that direction at the National Animal Control Association. The September/October 2011 issue of NACA News, for example, featured an article by Lynne Achterberg, founding board member of Santa Cruz, California’s Project Purr, highlighting the benefits of TNR. In “Paradigm Shift: Return to Field,” Achterberg explained that for communities interested in increasing their shelters’ live release rates, “TNR and inclusion of feral cats is key.”

In the January/February 2012 issue, NACA president Todd Stosuy cited TNR as one “proactive animal program” that “can help reduce the number of animals coming into the shelter, and thus reduce euthanasia in the long-run.”

TNR Going Mainstream

It’s no surprise, really, that people support TNR over lethal control methods—we are, after all, a nation of animal lovers. But it’s another thing for TNR to become a more integrated part of the culture. Here, too, there’s good news to report.

Witness, for example, two recent books on the subject: Taming Me: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat (released today to correspond with NFCD, and which I reviewed for Moderncat) and Fairminded Fran and the Three Small Black Community Cats.

And it seems the rest of the world has figured out what some of us have known for a while now: it’s hip to be tipped. Check out the specially-designed pillowcases and tote bags by Xenotees (whose founder is donating all related profits to Four The Paws, a Philadelphia area rescue). Additional “ear-tipped” items are being featured today at Moderncat (where, by the way, you can get in on an NFCD giveaway).

Vox Felina Supporters

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge my many readers. I know from the e-mail I receive, and comments posted on the Vox Felina Facebook page, of your tireless support for TNR, and feral cats in general. “Regular folks” concerned for the welfare of feral, stray, and abandoned cats who are engaging their government officials and neighbors; “freelance” colony caregivers sharing their hard-won knowledge with others; and various well-established organizations shaping policy at the state and national level—I am humbled by your commitment and compassion.

Thank you for your support, and for all that you do on behalf of the cats!

Free-Roaming Cats, Infectious Diseases, and the Zombie Apocalypse

A recently published paper describing free-roaming cats as “a significant public health threat” fails to deliver convincing evidence. In fact, the very work the authors cite undermines, time and time again, their claims.

“Domestic cats are a potential source of numerous infectious disease agents,” write Rick Gerhold and David Jessup, in their paper, “Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Free-Roaming Cats,” published online in July by the journal Zoonoses Public Health (and to be included in an upcoming print edition).

“However, many of these diseases are controlled in cats belonging to responsible owners through routine veterinary care, proper vaccination regimens and parasite chemotherapy. Free-roaming cats often lack the necessary preventative care to control these diseases and consequently pose a potential health threat to other domestic animals, wildlife and humans.” [1]

Just how much of a threat do these cats pose?

Gerhold and Jessup would have us believe that the risks are high and the consequences dire. A careful reading of their paper, however, reveals the authors’ tendency to cherry-pick some studies and misrepresent others. And, occasionally, simply get their facts wrong.*

All of which raises serious questions about Gerhold and Jessup’s case against free-roaming cats. Read more

New Gig: Guest Contributor to Petfinder Blog

My debut post, “The real record on feral cats and public health,” appeared on the Petfinder blog yesterday. Vox Felina readers can expect an in-depth (i.e., ~4,000 words) version very soon.

Many thanks to the good folks at Discovery Communications (who are proving to be a real pleasure to work with) for the opportunity. I look forward to many more posts in the future. (Indeed, another is just around the corner!)

Early Start to National Feral Cat Day Celebrations

Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners rejected proposed Rule No. 930-X-1-.39 (in a unanimous vote, apparently), thus allowing the state’s four non-profit spay/neuter clinics to remain open.

According to a story in The Anniston Star, “board members… faced a crowd of about 100 animal advocates and shelter volunteers” at yesterday’s hearing.

“The crowd, overwhelmingly composed of people who opposed the measure, cheered as more than a dozen people spoke against the rule change. Only one speaker dissented from the crowd.”

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, this decision could have set a dangerous precedent had it gone the other way. Across the country, veterinarians working in low-cost clinics might have been accused of “perpetrating cruelty on the very animals they claim they are protecting,” to use the words of Eric R. Lewis, Communications Officer for the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association, the organization behind Rule No. 930-X-1-.39.

But perhaps this case has set another kind of precedent. Read more

Alabama Vets to End Low-Cost Spay/Neuter?

“Analysis of Maddie’s Fund program results show that low-cost spay/neuter programs are effective at raising total community spay/neuter levels (i.e., they do not merely cause substitution in source of spay/neuter procedures).”
— Joshua M. Frank and Pamela L. Carlisle-Frank, Ecological Economics (2007)

Later today, the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is scheduled, as veterinarian Eric R. Lewis, Communications Officer for the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association, put it in a recent e-mail alert, “to clarify the definitions of what a practice owner is in the state.” Which probably sounds like nothing more than a little housekeeping for the board, right?

In fact, the decision may well shut down the four low-cost non-profit spay/neuter clinics in the state.* Worse, it may set a disastrous precedent for other states.

So, what’s going on in Alabama? Read more

Alley Cat Allies’ 2012/2013 Calendar

For a limited time only—donate $10 or more and receive Alley Cat Allies’ 15-month calendar full of color photos (submitted by ACA supporters) and helpful cat care tips. Orders must be placed before midnight October 11th.

Please allow approximately 2–3 weeks for delivery.

American Bird Conservancy Calls for Killing of Cats

I don’t imagine USA Today has ever been accused of producing substantive journalism. And, judging from a worthless he-said/she-said-we-report-you-decide story in yesterday’s edition, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

OK, not worthless, exactly. After all, American Bird Conservancy president George Fenwick finally went on record calling for the killing of free-roaming cats: “I detest the killing of cats and dogs or anything else. But this is out of control, and there may be no other answer.” [1]

How many cats are we talking about? Fenwick’s not saying. And reporter Chuck Raasch does readers no favors when he confuses free-roaming cats and feral cats (“Estimates of the U.S. feral cat population range from a few million to 125 million, with the Humane Society saying 50 million.”)

And in a move that’s become popular among TNR opponents,* Fenwick plays the “powerful cat lobby” card: “he worries his side is ‘out-emotioned’ and out-organized.” [1] It would, I think, be more accurate to say that “his side” has neither the science nor public opinion working in their favor. Read more

National Feral Cat Day: Traps on Sale!

National Feral Cat Day is just around the corner—October 16th. And to mark the occasion, Tomahawk Live Trap and Tru-Catch are offering special discounts.

For additional information, please check out Alley Cat Allies’ NFCD 2012 page.