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Rabid Cat Attack on 4-Year-Old Boy Ignites Feral Cat Trap-and-Euthanize Plan in Cumberland County, Penn.

| by Denise A Justin
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South Newton Township in Cumberland County, Pa., reports it has hired a professional trapper to catch feral felines after a 4-year-old preschooler was attacked by a rabid cat. The cats that are trapped will be euthanized, according to the Chambersburg Public-Opinion News.

The township has already contracted with a private trapping company to remove the cats in September. Fears have been mounting since the Pennsylvania Department of Health determined that a cat in the county tested positive for rabies on June 20.

The cat attack on the 4-year-old boy took place when he was in a group of preschoolers.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have a lot of scared people," said chairman of the South Newton Board of Supervisors, David Durff. "And there are more health and safety issues with the feral cats. People are complaining that their gardens and yards are being used as litter boxes and their garbage is getting torn up. You can’t sit back.”

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Durff said the boy who was attacked at the preschool required medical attention, but he told Jim Hook of the Opinion News that he did not know the nature of the treatment.

The Supervisors reached their decision regarding eradicating the feral cats on July 16 during a special meeting, Durff said. The Board heard from people who wanted TNR, meaning that the cats would be trapped, neutered and returned to the neighborhoods.

“That doesn’t take care of the immediate problem,” Durff said.

Supervisors have advertised their decision in newspapers, on cable television’s community channels, put it on the township’s website and posted fliers. That will give cat owners plenty of time to arrange to keep pets indoors during the trapping period, which will take place on a weekend, Durff stated.

Durff said he has no idea how many feral cats are in the township.

FERAL CATS ARE NO. 1 DOMESTIC-ANIMAL CAUSE OF HUMAN RABIES

The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that Pennsylvanians keep about 3 million cats as pets, the Opinion News reports.

“Cats in general are the No. 1 domestic-animal cause of human exposure to rabies, and the highest risk are feral cats because they have increased exposure to wildlife and are less likely to be vaccinated,” said Nicole L. C. Bucher, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “People should never approach an animal unknown to them.”

Rabies is being found increasingly in cats. For the first time in Pennsylvania, the number of rabid cats in 2009 surpassed the number of any rabid wild animal group other than the raccoon. Cats account for about 10 percent of animals testing positive for rabies in Pennsylvania.

Free-roaming cats are a significant source of rabies, according to a 2012 study by R.W. Gerhold of the University of Tennessee and D.A. Jessup, retired from the California Department of Fish and Game.

They also found that trap, neuter and release programs intended to reduce populations of feral cats might lead instead to larger populations of unvaccinated cats.

Pennsylvania led the nation in the number of cases of rabies in domestic animals in 2010, the most recent year for complete data, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. It had more rabid cats than any other state from 2008 to 2010.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted to humans through the saliva of an infected animal. The virus affects the nervous system, and if treatment is not given early, it usually leads to death.

Durff said some people in South Newton Township are feeding stray cats.

“They think they are doing the right thing, but it’s adding to the problem,” the Opinion News reports.

Source: Public Opinion Online