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Published: Saturday, 4/9/2005

Solutions scarce for feral cat problem

The thousands of stray cats wandering Lucas County are a problem with no sure solution.

But according to a panel of animal and health-care providers, it is a problem that can be managed. Tools include spaying, neutering, and keeping felines indoors.

The topic of feral cats was among several discussed at the Toledo-Lucas County health department's spring forum.

The daylong meeting brought together health department employees from 15 northwest Ohio counties to discuss a variety of environmental concerns, including mercury spills and protecting the nation's food supply.

"We want to get people talking, to learn what's known about various topics out there so we can start looking for solutions for these situations," said Mike Oricko, the Toledo-Lucas County environmental health director.

The four-member panel discussing the cat problem defined feral cats as those that are not owned and haven't been owned for several generations. The rest they labeled "roaming cats." Health departments are concerned with the issue because of rabies scares, although cats very rarely spread the disease and have never done so in Lucas County.

Aimee St. Arnaud, director of Humane Ohio, spoke about the privately funded Operation Felix program, which traps and spays or neuters cats and then returns them to their environment. The tamer ones they try to adopt out, the sick ones they euthanize, and the others are returned to the areas from which they came, she said.

The three-year-old program offers free spay and neutering services in Lucas County for feral cats and for those cats whose owners qualify. But there's more to curbing the feral cat population than stopping them from breeding, Ms. St. Arnaud said. Owners need to understand that pet cats belong indoors.

Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon said his office sold 63,000 dog licenses at $20 each. Although the city of Toledo requires cat owners to purchase licenses, only 103 licenses were sold this year.

Also speaking on the issue were Mike Butcher, of the Toledo-Lucas County health department, and Dr. Tim Reichard, a veterinarian who helped institute the feral cat program at the Toledo Zoo.

Dr. Reichard said that although euthanasia isn't always the best solution, it is an avenue often considered.

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