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33 down, lots more to go in latest TNR

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Otter Creek's second feral cat roundup a success

By Jenna McKenna

Thirty two cats went home to their colonies in Otter Creek, Chiefland, Bronson and Cedar Key this weekend, freshly shaved, shorn, vaccinated, medicated and relieved of their reproductive organs.

This was Otter Creek’s second cat roundup, and the city hopes to continue the effort every month. Veterinarians and volunteers from Jacksonville’s River City Community Animal Hospital (RCCAH) and Williston’s Sheltering Hands say the trapping, neutering and returning of these feral cats to their home colonies will result in healthier cat colonies and a safer environment for people and pets.

Sheltering Hands is only the most recent organization in Levy County to pick up the baton in the race to try to limit the county’s cat population explosion. The Humane Society of Levy County conducted the low-cost spay-neuter program all last year with the help of a grant, which has since expired, and the organization will not be eligible for another grant until next year. Sheltering Hands is funded by private donations, and hopes to keep the trap-neuter-return effort seamlessly moving forward.

Pat Gionet, DVM, of RCCAH was performing the surgeries Thursday with the help of vet techs Jaracia Rowe and Stacey Chesser-Davis. Kathy Fleck of Sheltering Hands was in charge of the roundup.

Gionet said the trap-neuter-return programs, while continuing to face opposition in some sectors, are the most effective means of controlling feral cat populations and sustaining public health and safety in those areas. She said RCCAH’s method of providing a full exam and medical treatment to every cat helps to limit the spread of zoonotic (spread from animals to people) diseases.

“There aren’t a lot of zoonotic illnesses, but they can be very serious,” said Gionet.

“Rabies is a big one, although we rarely see that – mainly things like intestinal parasites and ringworm, things you really don’t want your children to catch. We give the cat a full exam and treat any illness that it has – ear mites, eye infections, abcesses – before releasing it back to its colony. I think it’s negligent not to.”

Gionet said the falling economy and unknown environmental factors are combining to make it very hard to get a handle on cat populations.

“Kitten season (the months of the year when cats have the most litters) is getting longer and longer down here,” she said.

“At the same time, I’m afraid people are going to be less and less willing to spend the money to take care of their animals.”

“I hope we’re finally starting to make a dent in this area, and I think we are,” she continued.

“A few of the cats we picked up this time had already been done.”

Gionet said the altered cats had been collected because there was no way to know they had already had the surgery. These cats would have their left ear tips cropped, like those of the cats receiving surgeries Thursday, so that in the future they would be spared the possibility of unnecessary and dangerous additional surgeries.

All the cats collected in the Otter Creek roundup went home cleaner, healthier and better fed, thanks to a donation of Science Diet cat food from the Hills Corporation. But one kitty will have a happier homecoming than any other.

Otto, a brown mackerel tabby kitten, was young enough and sociable enough to catch the eyes of the volunteers. He’ll be fostered by Sheltering Hands until he’s old enough to neuter, and then he’ll go to someone’s loving home.

Otter Creek’s next TNR will be Feb. 19. Call Sheltering Hands at 352-817-0663 for more information, or Otter Creek Town Hall at 352-486-6467.