Pilot cat program takes off

Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Monday, June 10, 2013

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE Caroline Resnick, a volunteer for Community Cats of Charlotte, helps make the feral felines that just got out of surgery a little more comfortable during a neutering clinic at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte on Sunday.

SUN PHOTO BY MERAB-MICHAL FAVORITE
Caroline Resnick, a volunteer for Community Cats of Charlotte, helps make the feral felines that just got out of surgery a little more comfortable during a neutering clinic at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte on Sunday.

PORT CHARLOTTE — Diana Santi, 66, of Punta Gorda, has been an animal lover since she was a little girl, a characteristic that followed her into adulthood.

When Hurricane Charley hit in 2004, she adopted an abandoned dog that had been roaming the streets. Then, over the last few years, she began feeding stray cats around her neighborhood. However, the feral felines kept breeding, becoming more of a financial burden.

‘Everyone always tells them to ‘shoo’ and turns them away,’ Santi said, ‘I didn’t have the heart for that. But they wouldn’t stop having kittens and I got in way over my head.’

Santi, who was suffering from cancer and dealing with medical bills, couldn’t afford to have the cats fixed. Yet every evening more and more cats would appear at her doorstep, meowing and purring for dinner.

Santi was at a loss until she heard about Community Cats of Charlotte, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of feral and free-roaming cats throughout the county. The cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated so they can continue a healthy existence in the wild without multiplying.

On Sunday, the last of Santi’s 10 cats were neutered, at no cost, during a pilot program that traps and treats feral cats on a monthly basis.

About 36 predominately female, free-roaming cats underwent surgery at the Pampered Pet Health Center in Port Charlotte. Dr. Anita Holt, who owns the clinic, and other local veterinarians volunteered to perform the procedures, which included three-year rabies and distemper shots.

After being treated, the cats ‘ ears were clipped so people would know they had received their shots, and they were released back into the wild.

Feral cats can’t be taken into a shelter,’ said Bob Starr, a former Charlotte County commissioner who funded the launch of the program by donating nearly $3,000 to the cause. ‘They are not adoptable; they’re too wild and crazy. This way they can live out their days in the wild, but the nuisance behavior and the explosive population growth stops.’

Starr theorizes that once the ferals are released, the cat population will stabilize and decrease over time. The Community Cats of Charlotte organization keeps a watchful eye over their former feline patients by assigning a volunteer caregiver to feed and manage each of the feral cat colonies located throughout the county.

‘The community has embraced this program because no harm comes to the cats ,’ said Janet Gould, president of Community Cats of Charlotte. ‘The only way to effectively address the problem is to offer a life-saving program like this one.’

Dr. Ronald Lott, a volunteer veterinarian at the clinic, said that treating the cats is an issue of public health. According to Lott, there were over 104 cases of rabies last year in Florida.

‘The disease is passed primarily through raccoons and bats,’ he said. ‘This way domestic animals aren’t exposed.’

In May, Port Charlotte was put on a rabies alert after a dog had been exposed to a bat that tested positive for the rabies virus in Charlotte County.

While doctors and animal control specialists address the well-being of local residents and their pets, Santi is happy her burden has been lifted.

‘I just hope that the word spreads about this wonderful program,’ she said. ‘Euthanization is not the answer, neutering and spaying is.’

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