Answering the Wrong Questions in Columbia, MO

Just three days after the Columbia Heart Beat reported that Nathan Voris may have had a financial stake in Columbia, Missouri’s new animal control ordinance, Voris is denying any conflict of interest.

Voris, the former chair of the Columbia-Boone County Board of Health—now an employee of Pfizer Animal Health—was instrumental in crafting the ordinance, which requires all colony cats to “be tested annually for feline leukemia and feline immune deficiency virus.” No such testing is required for pet cats.

Pfizer Animal Health manufactures vaccines and a variety of FeLV and FIV tests for cats.

According to a story in yesterday’s Columbia Daily Tribune, though, Voris’ relationship with Pfizer (which, the Heart Beat reported, actually began when Voris was in veterinary school, serving as the drug-maker’s student rep) had no impact on the ordinance.

“Voris said he did not begin his employment with Pfizer until after provisions regarding feral cats were written into the proposed legislation, and, as a member of the Equine Veterinary Operations team for Pfizer, he has no personal stake in products for cats.”

According to the Tribune, Voris testified at last week’s City Council meeting, where the ordinance was approved 4–2, “and he defended the effectiveness of tests for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.”

Was anybody disputing the effectiveness of the tests? The question is not whether or not they are effective, but whether they’re appropriate.

Research suggests that FeLV and FIV infection rates among colony cats are “similar to infection rates reported for owned cats,” [1] so the cats don’t benefit from annual testing. And the caretakers certainly don’t—in addition to the challenges of trapping and transporting cats for yearly vet visits, there’s the cost (easily $60 or more per cat, a local clinic tells me).

And there’s no benefit to local animal control officers, or to public health. So, what’s the provision in there for? According to Voris, the annual testing requirement has been in there for more than a year now—and still, nobody can explain its purpose.

I certainly can’t.

The news stories over the past week or so have done nothing to change my initial impression of Columbia’s new ordinance: this is the kind of legislation I’d craft if I were dead-set against TNR but lacked the integrity to take a stand publicly.

[Thank you, once again, to Alley Cat Rescue for the tip.]

Literature Cited
1. Lee, I.T., et al., “Prevalence of feline leukemia virus infection and serum antibodies against feline immunodeficiency virus in unowned free-roaming cats.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2002. 220(5): p. 620-622.