Target 8: Trapped, neutered, vaccinated and released rabid cat bites victim in Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Target 8 has confirmed that a rabid cat that bit a person trying to help it last week in Hillsborough County appears to be a feral cat that was trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies, then released.

“It did have a clipped ear, yes,” said Steve Huard of the Hillsborough County Health Department.

The clipped ear signifies the cat was trapped, neutered, vaccinated for rabies and released (TNVR), part of the so called feral cat program.

It is aimed at reducing the wild cat population. TNVR is a program the Hillsborough County Pet Resources Center is also helping to fund.

Each month, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, in conjunction with the Pet Resources Center, traps, neuters, vaccinates and releases hundreds of feral cats.

But, there is little accountability. For instance, who worked on the cat in question?

Humane Society CEO Sherry Silk was unavailable for an on-camera interview Wednesday but she did text, “No way to know. Could have been us, ACT, or any of the few vets who do TNR. No way to know.”

According to the Department of Health’s Steve Huard, it takes 28 days for a rabies vaccine to take hold. That provides little protection for a cat vaccinated one day and released into the wild the next.

“If you have an animal that’s living in the wild, a feral animal, that was vaccinated and it comes in contact with another animal that has rabies within that 28 day period, it could definitely happen,” explained Huard.

“If that’s the case, then the cat should’ve been quarantined until the rabies vaccine took effect,” said Amy Howland.

Howland sat on the Hillsborough County Animal Advisory Committee task force studying “no kill” policies. She worried this day would come.

“This is not a surprise, as pet owners we’re supposed to get a rabies shot per our veterinarian once a year,” stated Howland.

As far as rabies shots for feral cats, in Hillsborough County, it’s one and done.

“I cannot believe that Hillsborough County risks public safety,” said Howland.

The county’s feral cat program runs counter to Department of Health requirements that requires rabies booster shots. Hillsborough County also requires pet owners supply proof that their animals are up to date on their rabies shots before they can be issued licenses.

“Well, the Department of Health’s position and recommendation on trap, neuter and release is, it’s not good for public health,” explained Huard.

According to veterinarian Dr. Katie Thompson, despite the panic witnessed with Ebola, rabies is the deadliest virus on the planet.

If you have something that you think should be investigated call our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or write Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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