Hillsborough County Commissioners Approve TNR Plan

It doesn’t happen often enough—but every now and then, common sense, reason, and compassion win the day. Today is such a day.

This morning Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-to-1 in favor of Hillsborough County Animal Services’ recently announced TNR pilot program—part of director Ian Hallett’s proposal for reducing shelter killing (PDF).

This is a huge victory for TNR supporters (who, as I understand it, packed today’s meeting), especially in light of the no-holds-barred campaign waged by opponents from the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. In the end, it seems, all the misinformation and scare-mongering—and their lack of a feasible alternative to TNR—failed to impress county commissioners. (One wonders what sort of impression the campaign made on their clients.)

As I understand it, HCAS’s program would be modeled on the successful Feral Freedom programs underway in Jacksonville, FL, or San José, CA. However, it’s clear from people already involved with TNR in Hillsborough County that some key aspects of the program still need to be worked out.

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To my friends and colleagues in Hillsborough County, whose tireless efforts made this victory possible, congratulations! And thank you for all you’re doing on behalf of your community’s stray, abandoned, and feral cats!

Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society Joins Witch-Hunt

Hillsborough County (Florida) Animal Services’ modest step in adopting TNR is met with fierce resistance by some in the veterinary community. Their alternative plan? Uninformed, unfunded, and unworkable.

Among the agenda items to be addressed when the Hillsborough County (FL) Board of Commissioners meets Wednesday morning: “approve the Animal Services Department’s Plan to Increase Live Outcomes in order to lower the euthanasia rate at the County’s animal shelter.” A no-brainer, right? I mean, who could object to something like that?

Although regular readers undoubtedly know where this is going, I’ll bet there are plenty of Hillsborough County residents who are puzzled by the opposition from the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society and Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation. Earlier this month, Don Thompson and his wife, Dr. Katie Thompson, owners of the Veterinary Center at Fishhawk, issued an e-blast warning of “Thousands of cats dumped on our streets.” “Sound [sic] impossible,” the e-mail continued, “but that is exactly what our new Animal Services Director is planning.” (Katie Thompson is an HCVMS member and sits on the county’s Animal Advisory Committee; Don Thompson is the executive director of HAHF, and recently spoke on behalf of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association in opposition to HB 1127.) Read more

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.”).

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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