A Florida Southern College program that launched this spring to provide on-campus feral cats with shelter, vet care and food has been suspended indefinitely because of health concerns, reports The Ledger.
"It seemed like a great idea at the time," said Terry Dennis, the school's vice president of operations. The campus was already home to more than a dozen wild cats, and having them taken to a vet and provided for by students appeared to be a humane way to go, he added.
"It all sounded good until we started hearing the opposite side,” he said.
The "opposite side" was a representative of the Polk County Health Department who contacted the school, Dennis said. "They called and asked 'have you been getting calls about what you're doing with the cats?'"
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School officials quickly learned the trap-and-release method of dealing with feral cats may have enthusiastic supporters but it also has some very rational and concerned critics.
Health experts advised that the housing provided for the cats could attract other wild animals, such as possums or raccoon, which could have rabies or be vectors for the deadly virus that could then spread to humans, Dennis said.
"They are concerned about us bringing in other things besides the cats," he said.
Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County, also noted the potential dangers of attracting other wildlife.
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"While we empathize and appreciate the caring efforts of those looking out for the well-being of Polk's wildlife, I can also understand the potential risks involved," Chloe said in an email response. "In the past, the health department has strongly advised against leaving food out for animals".
"The food can attract raccoons, which could put them in contact with children, adults, dogs and cats," Choe wrote. "Raccoons can carry rabies and expose people or domestic animals to the disease."
"Although feral cats may not frequently approach people, the potential for cat bites still exists," he added. "Cat bites can also lead to serious bacterial infections. Furthermore, cats can carry toxoplasmosis (a parasitic disease) that can infect children and cause serious infection in an unborn child if the mother is exposed."
School officials said they have not removed the cats, but the official program had to go.
"We have got to err on the side of caution," Dennis said. "We really do not know for sure this is a bad program, but we are hearing two different sides of the story."
"During the summer, the SPCA did come over here for two days with their mobile van and spay and neuter 18 cats — the only ones they could find after two weeks of feeding them," he said. "They gave them a full physical and then released them."
"In a year or two years from now, if everyone gets on the same page about this, we certainly would not have an issue with bringing the houses back out. I would love to put them out there," he told The Ledger.
Source: The Ledger