Hillsborough animal advocates defend cats after rabies scare - WFLA News Channel 8

Hillsborough animal advocates defend cats after rabies scare

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There's a debate brewing over feral cats in one Hillsborough County neighborhood after a 2-year-old girl was bitten by a stray cat that turned out to have rabies.

Bobby Shaw has lived in the Northdale neighborhood for eight months. He's used to seeing cats running through his backyard, slipping under his fence, and even hanging out in his garage. But now he worries about his 11-year-old son, Jordan.

"Be careful with the cats. Stay away from them," he said. "I don't want him getting bit by them or scratched or anything."

The cat with rabies attacked the little girl outside her grandparents home on Sand Lake Ct. Hillsborough County Animal Services says this cat was a stray, which is an important distinction to make, because the area is also home to a colony of 51 TNVR cats. Those cats are considered feral, but not stray.

TNVR stands for Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release.  Many of the cats roaming these streets have been vaccinated and don't pose a rabies threat. Residents can identify them because part of their ear has been snipped to mark them.

Animal advocates say TNVR works, because it eventually cuts down on the cat population, protects them from disease and keeps them from being euthanized in shelters.

"I understand their concern and I would be concerned, too," said Frank Hamilton, president of the Animal Coalition of Tampa. "I want every cat in the neighborhood fixed and vaccinated."

The Animal Coalition of Tampa has TNVR'ed more than 45,000 cats since 2002. Hamilton said it's helped Animal Services reduce it's intake rate by 47%, but there are still 200,000 homeless cats in the county.

"The Humane Society and ourselves actually feel more TNVR is a good thing," Hamilton said.

He also questions how this stray cat contracted rabies. He said it is unlikely that it came from another cat, but expects it came from a wild animal.

"Rabies is very prevalent in wildlife in the state of Florida.  We live in a beautiful state. We have wildlife and wildlife have rabies," he said.

Hamilton said the Animal Coalition is planning to hold a vaccination clinic in the Northdale neighborhood in the next three weeks, so people can protect their pets. A time and date have not yet been set for the event.

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