As a local veterinarian, I have another perspective on the local feral cat problem and the trap-neuter-return program. I was approached several months ago by the Payson Friends of Ferals to participate in their trap, neuter and release program and to offer discounts for this service. At that time, I declined to help for the following reasons, but I did offer some suggestions.
Although I think it is a noble cause, I believe the spay/neuter and release program presents several problems:
First, I believe altering animals without first testing for feline leukemia and FIV is not helping our domestic or feral cats. These two diseases are transmitted through cat-to-cat contact or from sharing food and water sources, and they are fatal.
Second, rabies is a valid concern in our community. Although cats are not required by law to receive rabies vaccinations, they are more likely, in my opinion, to transmit rabies to humans and other domestic animals. Cats are hunters and many are free roaming, which gives them a greater chance of coming into contact with infected animals. Giving these cats one rabies vaccination in their life does not protect them or us against rabies.
Third, feral cats likely carry other diseases such as upper respiratory infections that could be transmitted to any cat I have in the hospital. Placing potentially infectious cats anywhere near my regular patients is neither prudent nor fair. No matter how good isolation practices or disinfection practices are, there is still a significant chance of disease transmission (shared surgery room, etc.).
Finally, the greatest reason I declined to participate is because of the safety of my staff and myself. A feral cat is a wild animal. Out of fear, it will bite or scratch to get away and can cause permanent and debilitating damage. Although precautions are taken, there is always the chance of an accident occurring, and I will not accept the liability for this.
I agree with Lisa Boyle when she stresses the importance of spaying and neutering your pets. It has been proven that many diseases such as mammary cancer, prostate disease and testicular cancer are eliminated when pets are altered. Other benefits include a decrease in behavioral issues such as roaming, spraying and marking.
I do not have all of the answers. This is an ongoing and chronic problem that involves the whole community.
I suggest we start with education through school programs and community programs so people are aware of the consequences of not spaying and neutering their pets. The lack of compliance in this matter is the root of the feral cat problem. I, for one, would be happy to participate in these programs. I also believe that a feral cat program should benefit our cat (domestic and feral) and human population alike. Whether you are an animal lover or not, I think that we can all agree that safety should be a paramount concern.