We're all at risk of getting rabies from feral cats that live in outdoor colonies throughout the country, according to a new article published in the scientific journal Zoonoses and Public Health.
"Any effective control program will need to be multifaceted and will likely need to include the removal of free-roaming cats," says Jesse Blanton, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and one of the authors.
Cats and dogs should be playing by the same rules, says the article: "Requirements for rabies vaccination and prohibitions against free-roaming should be applied to cats as they are generally applied to dogs."
Five of the authors work for the CDC, one for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and one for the American Bird Conservancy. Most of us have never seen this journal. Some might wonder, what are "zoonoses"? They are infectious diseases, including rabies, that animals can give to people.
The American Bird Conservancy issued a news release about the article.
In recent years, the group has issued many news releases decrying the large numbers of song birds and other wildlife killed by feral and free roaming cats. An estimated 60 million to 100 million feral cats roam throughout the United States, the article says.
More than 90 percent of rabid animals are wildlife, especially bats, raccoons, foxes and skunks, the article says. But feral and free roaming cats come in contact with wildlife and then come in contact with people, putting us at risk, "especially children, as they are more likely than adults are to approach cats."
There are "dramatic shifts" in the numbers of domestic animals with rabies, the article says. In 1946, reported rabies cases were 8,384 dogs and 455 cats. In 2011, the documented rabies numbers were 70 dogs and 303 cats.
Thirteen rabid animals were reported in Allegheny County in the first eight months of 2013 -- six bats, six raccoons and one cat.
Here's the official rebuttal to the article from Alley Cat Allies, which supports trap-neuter-return programs for feral cats:
"This is fear mongering, and it can have disastrous consequences for cats," said Becky Robinson, president and co-founder of the group, which claims 500,000 supporters.
The article "that calls for eradicating feral cats is biased and grossly exaggerates the potential rabies threat from cats," Ms. Robinson said. Rabies vaccines are "a standard and immensely valuable element of [trap-neuter-return] programs."
These programs have been "extremely effective in stabilizing and reducing cat populations," and more than 330 counties and cities "endorse and embrace TNR," Ms. Robinson said.
The Zoonoses article said trap-neuter-return programs do not reduce numbers of feral cats, and said cat colonies "might actually increase" because people are feeding them. The authors express concern that feral cats get only one rabies shot in their lives.
The article calls for "removing" roving cats, not killing them, said Grant Sizemore, cats indoor program officer for the American Bird Conservancy. He suggested that shelters and rescue groups could find homes for the feral cats that are captured.
In a phone interview, he said it would help if there were stiff penalties for people who dump cats, but he conceded that would be hard to enforce.
"The people who care about animals are clashing" over this issue, Mr. Sizemore said. "We are all animal lovers and we are not cat haters."
His pet house cat, Amelia Bodelia, experiences the joys of the great outdoors but always on a leash or in a tent.
People who trap, neuter, vaccinate and release feral cats are trying to be part of the solution.
Locally, the Homeless Cat Management Team has spayed and neutered 14,000 cats in 13 years. Go to www.homelesscat.org for clinic dates. Appointments must be made by calling 412-321-4060.
Some clinics for ferals are free, thanks to donations. Prices for pet cats are $50 to spay females and $35 to neuter males.
Spaghetti for cats
A spaghetti dinner to benefit FosterCat Inc. will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. next Saturday at Wallace Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1146 Greentree Road, Green Tree (15220). Tickets are $9 for adults and $4 for children. There will be auctions and raffles and jewelry, art and cat toys for sale. Get tickets at www.fostercat.org or call 412-653-3660.
Crafton dog swim
Although public pools traditionally close on Labor Day, the swimming season isn't over for dogs.
The first annual Doggie Paddle will be from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Crafton pool, 117 W. Steuben St.
The event host is Pool Together, a committee formed to help with the borough's $1.5 million renovation of the outdoor pool.
Dogs are invited to "swim their paws off" for $10 per canine. The donation is $1 for spectators. Proceeds will go to the pool work.
Local pet vendors have donated prizes for categories including best swimmer and most unusual pet swimwear. Doggie lifeguards will be on deck, but owners are responsible for their pets. Aggressive dogs will be removed "and sent to the doghouse."
Dogs must be up to date on vaccinations and possess a current dog license.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. Got a pet health question? Email it to email@example.com. It may be answered in an upcoming Pet Points column by veterinarians at the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic.