Target 8: Local veterinarian claims animal control ordinance violates state law

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s rabies roulette in Hillsborough County and the person who tried to help a sick cat last week is the big loser. 

Now, a Tampa Bay area veterinarian is taking Hillsborough County commissioners to court, claiming the animal control ordinance violates state law.

Contrary to what the law requires, commissioners decided tens of thousands of ear-tipped community cats can get away without rabies booster shots.

Dr. Ellen Alence contends by doing so, commissioners created a lethal loophole.

“It’s a very lethal loophole that they’ve created in the rabies re-vaccination laws,” said Dr. Alence.

The Lithia-based veterinarian filed a constitutional challenge to Hillsborough’s animal ordinance, claiming it violates state law.

“Any rabies vaccine that we give to any dog, cat, or ferret, must be reported to the county animal control and that’s according to state law,” explained Dr. Alence.

That’s not happening for community cats that are trapped, neutered, vaccinated then released back into the wild.

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay traps, neuters, vaccinates and releases hundreds of cats each month in conjunction with the Hillsborough County Pet Resources Center.

According to a text from HSTB CEO Sherry Silk, every animal has its own medical record.

“The caretaker/owner gets a copy of what was done to that animal,” Silk wrote. “The majority of our have caretakers. Exception is community cats from HCPRC.”

The PRC promised commissioners that no cat would be released without a caretaker.

State law also requires all dogs, cats and ferrets receive rabies shots each year.

“If somebody is bitten by a dog, a cat, or a ferret, the information on the rabies certificate is critical to determine what type of treatment that person who was bitten needs to receive,” she said.

In Hillsborough, it’s a one and done rabies shot policy for feral cats.

“They’ve been playing rabies roulette for several years now and now we have this person who’s been exposed,” said Dr. Alence.

Target 8 confirmed that last week a rabid cat with a tipped ear, which signifies it was trapped, neutered, vaccinated and then released, bit someone.

The county provided no one to speak with us on camera about this issue.

A year ago, we asked Pet Resources Center director Scott Trebatoski how a county ordinance could trump state law.

“The laws have not always kept up with the current practices,” said Trebatoski.

Dr. Alence points out she is not against trap, neuter, vaccinate and release (TNVR.) She wants to make it safer to avoid what happened last week.

“At least this person who was exposed had reported it,” added Dr. Alence. “If it had been somebody who maybe received what they considered to be a minor scratch and didn’t report it and were misinformed to think that since it’s an ear tipped cat it couldn’t possibly have rabies, it could be even worse and somebody could die.”

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

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