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Feral cats creating public health problem

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Updated: 7/10/2013 6:34 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The waste that feral cats leave behind is creating a public health problem, according to an article released by Trends in Parasitology.

The review, released Tuesday, says the one percent of the country's 25 - 60 million feral cats are spreading an infectious parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which has recently caused a disease called toxoplasmosis in otherwise healthy people. Research has linked T. gondii to schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, and brain cancer.

Action News found there are people working to prevent the spread of all disease among Jacksonville's estimated 160,000 feral cats, like Jeff Sweeney.

Sweeney spends nearly two hours each day, seven days a week, feeding hundreds of feral cats on the north and westsides.

"I probably on average spend about $100 to $125 a week on cat food."

But that's not all. When Sweeney, a veterinary technician, first got involved, he noticed many of the cats were sick.

"I would see a lot of snotty noses, runny eyes, and fighting."

Left untreated, diseases can spread among feral cats and sometimes to humans. According to the article, feral cats leave behind 1.2 million tons of waste each year. That's why, over the past three years, Sweeney has trapped, neutered and returned nearly 400 feral cats with help from First Coast No More Homeless Pets.

"We really need the community to step up and help solve this problem," said Dianne Wiles, Development Director for FCNMHP.

Wiles says the organization treats and releases 14,000 feral cats each year.

"You have to have the high volume to curtail the problems."

There's no vaccine for toxoplasmosis, however.

"It's really all about hygiene to protect yourself from the disease which you're very unlikely to contract."

Wiles says there's no sure-way to protect yourself from any disease, but Action News found toxoplasmosis isn't common in Jacksonville. According to the most recent data available from the Florida Department of Health, on average, only 18 cases are reported in Florida each year, and most are traced to horses, black rats, raccoons, and opossums, or to eating raw meat. To catch the disease from a cat, infected waste must be directly ingested by a human.

"The likelihood of that happening is very slim."

But if it is a public health risk, why are feral cats released at all? Wiles says feral cats will never be eliminated in their entirety, and if they are caught and euthanized, other feral cats would eventually move in, and those cats wouldn't be treated at all. Since August 2008, nearly 20,000 feral cats have been treated through the Feral Freedom program - the first of it's kind in the country - and nearly 60,000 more thanks to concerned neighbors.

While it's not a perfect system, Wiles believes it's the best practice they've found so far to stabilize the population and keep the community healthy, and Sweeney agrees.

"I think if people go out there and really look they'll see a well maintained colony isn't probably what they think."

Experts says toxoplasmosis is rare in household pets, and that hygiene is key to protecting yourself.

To learn more about the First Coast No More Homeless Pets' TNR program (trap, neuter, and release), go to www.fcnmhp.org or call 904-425-0005.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Action News Jacksonville

suscurran199 - 7/11/2013 2:24 AM
0 Votes
The TV story ran on Jan 9, 2013 was a confusing, manipulative, over-dramatization of Jacksonville's feral cat issue. And the headline grabbing mess of misinformation left me perplexed. I understand the fear angle is good for TV, but this one stood out to me as unusually irresponsible: 1. You start the story with a hyperbolic and false caption 'FERAL CAT POPULATION EXPLODING' only to report at the end of the segment that "population numbers are actually going down". Why? Because of the TNR program I participate in to help the Jacksonville community address a demanding problem created by Jacksonville residents). NIMBY mentality is no longer tolerated regarding this issue. Accept that there will always be individuals feeding strays without the discipline or finances to properly maintain TNR methods. 2. Also the title/headline says "feral cats creating public safety hazard" only to find out later in segment that(toxoplasmosis)transmission from cats to humans is rare. Evidence from scientific literature endorsed by The Veterinary Public Health Special Primary Interest Group of the American Public Health Association supports maintaining a nonbreeding population using TNR, public education, along with responsible cat ownership and active adoption programs is an effective and humane option for the long-term control of free roaming cats therefore reducing the risk of re-population by other intact cat populations and smaller predators of wildlife, thereby reducing zoonotic diseases etc., etc... So I was disappointed that you chose misleading, negative 'sound bites' knowing that is what viewers will likely take away from the story AND then completely contradict your own 'sound bites' with some positive and optimistic truth. Thanks!

missy904 - 7/10/2013 11:26 AM
0 Votes
I really don't care for the title of this article/story. It is honestly a rare thing to catch diseases from cats unless one is hoarding them. There are already so many people that are cruel to these wonderful animals. Do we really need people to see the title of this article/story and give them more of a reason to be cruel to them? Not to mention it may affect people adopting them. Also, I kind of got the feeling that this article was insinuating that we shouldn't have feral cats. There is nothing wrong with having feral cats living among us, as long as people leave them alone (don't feed them... they are wild animals and know how to fend for themselves). If we leave them alone than they will leave us alone.

Allacra - 7/10/2013 10:36 AM
1 Vote
NatureAdvocate, You come across as belligerent and quite nutty. If you really are passionate about your beliefs and feel your opinion is important, you may not want to degrade other passionate people in your rants. You should also not use fear-mongering. Insects, animals and humans all carry disease.

NatureAdvocate - 7/10/2013 5:01 AM
0 Votes
I think the worst part of all, anyone associated with TNR aren't adhering to the mandatory REQUIRED BY LAW SIX-MONTH QUARANTINE for any animal when harvested from the wild and intended for any sector of the pet-trade. This is why rabid kittens are now being adopted direct from shelters. Like this one of hundreds for example, Google for: RABID KITTEN ADOPTED WAKE COUNTY. / The 10-14 day holding period for bite & scratch cases is ONLY meant to see if they were infectious at the time of the incident, but DOES NOT IN ANY WAY prove that that cat does not have rabies. The incubation period for rabies can be (on average) from 21 to 240 days. And in some cases as much as 11 months. One rare case being 6 years. Giving a rabies shot to an animal that already has rabies and has not been quarantined for AT LEAST 6 MONTHS FIRST does NOTHING to ensure that that animal does not have rabies! / But these TNR advocates, and the community-college educated veterinarians with web-based degrees, and the moron shelter managers, and local government "officials" who don't even have high-school educations, and all those that support them? EACH AND EVERY ONE IS IN *DIRECT* *VIOLATION* OF WELL-ESTABLISHED *NATIONAL* & *INTERNATIONAL* DEADLY-DISEASE CONTAINMENT *LAWS*. They ALL need to be sued so fast, hard, and deep that they never recover from it for the rest of their sorry and criminally negligent lives. / Google for: RABIES PROMPTS CARLSBAD CAT PROGRAM SUSPENSION TNR / Rabies Outbreak Caused by TNR. 50+ Pets Euthanized. ALL Stray Cats Destroyed. All livestock destroyed. More than a dozen homeowners pay for their own $3000+ rabies shots. / Google for: Rabies Outbreak in Westchester County / Google for: Rabid Kitten Jamestown Exposure / There's hundreds more like those on the net showing everyone how these phenomenally ignorant and foolish cat-lickers "help" their communities by allowing TNR CAT-HOARDERS to continue their criminally negligent behavior.

NatureAdvocate - 7/10/2013 4:58 AM
0 Votes
The ONLY veterinarians and groups supporting the COMPLETELY INHUMANE practice of TNR are those that financially benefit from all the hundreds of thousands of dollars that PetSmart and other petfood companies hand-out as "seed money" cash-grants and pleas for donations by exploiting suffering animals. The more suffering cat-mouths that they can all keep alive to torture to death by "attrition" and torture all wildlife to death with their cats, the more they all benefit financially. This is ONLY about the money being made by letting cats and animals suffer to death. / THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HUMANE NOR ECOLOGICALLY CORRECT ABOUT TNR. / ALL respectable veterinarians and others with the least bit of credible education and morality speak out strongly against TNR. Educate yourselves as well about this morally reprehensible TNR "business". / You can start the process by Googling for these postings (include the quotes for each full search-string): / "The TNR Con-Game" (Lists and dispels some of the most prevalent lies told by TNR cat-hoarders.) / "Be cautious about using any cats taken from outdoors for adoption" (Why rabid cats are now being adopted right from shelters. Is YOUR liability insurance up to date and will cover this? I didn't think so.) / "Here's another fun aspect of TNR that TNR LIARS never bother to tell anyone" (TNR con-artist liars are now clipping cats ears only without sterilizing nor vaccines to save money and protect any stray cat from being trapped and euthanized, proof is included in that post.) / and / "Licensing and laws do nothing to curb the problem." AND "I don't see anyone dumping cats where I live anymore." AND "irreversible consequences" (This posting contains the ONLY method that actually works 100%, is affordable by anyone or any size of community, and is a PERMANENT fix in less than a year!)

NatureAdvocate - 7/10/2013 4:56 AM
0 Votes
Stray-Cat Feeders TRAIN Feral Cats To Attack Humans / Google for: FERAL CAT ATTACK RABIES / Don't be surprised at the number of search-hits. Anyone who feeds these cats is training them to approach humans for food (contrary to them always claiming feral cats run from humans). What happens to the child or foolish adult that reaches down to pet or try to pick up that now seemingly friendly "cute kitty"? The wild animal lashes out and bites or scratches the hand that has no food for them. The number of suspected rabies cases and the then mandatory rabies shots costing well over $3000 each out of their own pockets, has been growing as exponentially fast as cats breed. Two reports even document rabid cats entering a home through their pet-door and one even came through their ceiling searching for human-supplied foods -- one attack so bad it required hospitalization for the family. / These are just the diseases cats have been spreading to humans, not counting the ones they spread to all wildlife. THERE ARE NO VACCINES against many of these, and are in-fact listed as bio-terrorism agents. They include: Afipia felis, Anthrax, Bartonella (Rochalimaea) henselae, Bergeyella (Weeksella) zoohelcum, Campylobacter Infection, Cat Scratch Disease, Chlamydia psittaci (feline strain), Cowpox, Coxiella burnetti Infection (Q fever), Cryptosporidium Infection, Cutaneous larva migrans, Dermatophytosis, Dipylidium Infection (tapeworm), Hookworm Infection, Leptospira Infection, Giardia, Neisseria canis, Pasteurella multocida, Plague, Poxvirus, Rabies, Rickettsia felis, Ringworm, Salmonella Infection, Scabies, Sporothrix schenckii, Toxocara Infection, Toxoplasmosis, Trichinosis, Visceral larva migrans, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis. [Centers for Disease Control, July 2010] Bovine Tuberculosis, Flea-borne Typhus, Rat-Bite Fever, Sarcosporidiosis, and Tularemia can now also be added to that list.
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