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Project Treadstone: An Unbelievable Lesson

It took me a couple of weeks to get to the bottom of the odd behavior of some of the rescue people regarding my accidental endeavor to trap, neuter and return a couple dozen feral cats around the Community Foundation building in West Palm Beach. I couldn't understand why it was all so cloak and dagger. Trap the damn cats, bring them to the vet, pay, allow them to recuperate, return them. Done. Easy, right?

At first, it appeared that the cat people were the problem. And though they're not without their quirks (I should talk), the real problem, which is somewhat understandable, lies at the feet of the veterinarians. Here are the facts of the case, which for all I know are quite common and play out in communities around the country:

  • There are thousands of feral cats (says the experts) in our county.
  • Animal Care and Control's Spay Shuttle hasn't been working and there is no date for its work to resume. The package was $15/cat and didn't include testing for FeLV or FIV. There is a satellite office in the Western Communities area of the county (45 minutes from the cats, an hour from me), but it too is not up and running. Net message? No low-cost spay and neuter available in Palm Beach County. 
  • The island of Palm Beach is its own world, has its own program, and is funded 50% by the Town of Palm Beach and 50% by donations. It has a trapper who works 6 days/ week. Two vets do their work, one of whom is on the island, the other is across the Intracoastal, in Lake Worth, which is a town in the City of West Palm Beach. She will work only with the Palm Beach Cat organization (Palm Beach Cats). In other words, unless the cat was trapped by Palm Beach Cats, she won't offer the feral package. And Palm Beach Cats will trap only on Palm Beach. See the problem? 
  • Onward. I called multiple vets and was met with one of two responses: we don't do ferals, or, we do, and the cost is $80 and includes testing and we'll kill all cats who test positive. The only exception is the place that will do it for $55.
  • Then there's my vet, whom I called to basically give him a guilt trip and get him to help. But as it turns out, he already has a deal for 2 cats/week with a local coalition. And there's a woman who decides which 2 cats will get fixed each week. I discovered all of this when I got "bumped" for the next three weeks by other TNR efforts in the North County area. There's another vet, further south, who services that area (note: not me and the West Palm cats), so it's entirely possible that a total of 4 feral cats are being sterilized per week in Palm Beach County (not counting the Town of Palm Beach). That's ludicrous.
  • I can take 5 cats at a time, one county north of me, about an hour away, for $24/males, $34/females and no testing. I can do this at least once/month. Trapping 5 should be interesting. And the four hours it will eat of my day will be fun, as no one else is willing to do that part. But I might be reduced to that.

Here's what enrages me: the vets won't provide a low-cost option, basically because they won't be making any money and, let's face it, they're in business to make money. So I understand their reasoning, yet I'm very frustrated with it. Just do the sterilization and a shot or two and don't test, then! Alley Cat Allies has been saying that all along!

But the reality is that they don't want to get involved. It's not fun dealing with feral cats, so they either don't do it at all, or make it so costly for you that you're not going to use them. 

I did some development work for our Legal Aid Society a couple of years ago, and the attorneys in the county are all members of the pro bono project. This means that they all donate as little as a couple of hours a year. Why can't vets all share the misery of this work none of them wants to do and each agree to do X number of feral cats per month? I suggested that to one of the cat ladies, who's been doing this thankless work in this county for years (long before the idea of TNR was accepted countywide), and she . . . laughed.
3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Connie Graham #

    Ah, innocence and logic. Once involved with TNR and the veterinarian community, both no longer exist. Who knows why attorneys do pro bono work, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't voluntary or altruistic in the beginning.

    Okay, so here comes the cynic in me. Yes, veterinarians are in business and need to make a profit, pay their employees, pay their bills, etc. And there are some terrific younger vets, most of whom were fortunate enough to volunteer for Operation Catnip (Dr. Levy's program in NC and Gainesville) or other veterinary school programs that hold mass spay/neuter days. But, in my experience, most veterinarians don't give a second thought to the millions upon millions of healthy dogs, cats, puppies and kittens who are born daily to then die or be euthanized in shelters across the country. They don't see their pivotal role in causing this problem because the average person simply cannot afford to spend $200 or more to spay/neuter their dog or cat. I had a practicing veterinarian, in his "role" as a County Commissioner, tell me – to my face – that ALL of the animals at our local animal control shelter had behavior problems and that's why they were there. When I asked: even the puppies and kittens? He ignored me and said that all of them should be euthanized.

    We were so fortunate to have our County Commission approve a low cost spay/neuter clinic operated by our animal control department in 1988. Anyone, regardless of income, can have cats and dogs fixed there for between $10 and $25, with only an additional $5 for a rabies shot at the time of surgery. In 20 years, the prices have remained the same, but not without fighting the opposition of the veterinary community, who continually lobby for price increases. Their local association tried to defund the program initially and then, when that didn't work, tried to keep the clinic from opening. Now, many of the vets just continue to spread rumors that the veterinarians there do shoddy work….which is so far from the truth. The veterinarians at the county clinic spay/neuter more animals in a week than most private practice vets do in a year.

    When the low cost vaccine services came to Florida several years ago, the Florida Veterinary Medical Association (FVMA) tried to get the state legislature to pass a law that would make it a FELONY for a veterinarian to give a rabies shot at someplace other than a veterinary clinic. Public lobbying prevented that from becoming law. They also fought the recognition of the 3 year rabies shot for many years. It was only a few years ago that the state made it legal for dogs and cats to obtain rabies shots every 3 years instead of annually, even though the 3 year vaccine was widely used and had been for over 10 years.

    Good, caring vets aren't easy to find. The average person, unfortunately, doesn't know enough about wellcare for their cat or dog and is taken advantage of by their vet in so many cases. And, as always, it's the animal that suffers the consequences. Sorry for ranting. The good news is that there are some good vets out there, but you have to be willing to shop around and learn as much as you can so you won't be fooled by someone whose focus is their wallet and not your dog's or cat's well-being.

    December 16, 2008
  2. No one laughs at Dr. Mary Martin. >:(

    I've been wondering about doing some cheap TNR in my neck of the woods. However, we still have a kill and a no-kill shelter here. I wonder if it's best to focus my efforts on cheap TNR (there's a $50 neuter clinic here) or on rallying for a no kill policy for the local humane society. Yes, you're going to say "just do both!" Oh, I have so much on my plate.

    While it is unfortunate you couldn't get through to them, I'm glad SOMEBODY is pushing for possibilities instead of surrendering to defeatism.

    December 16, 2008
  3. Eileen #

    "While it is unfortunate you couldn't get through to them, I'm glad SOMEBODY is pushing for possibilities instead of surrendering to defeatism." – Adam

    I second that.

    Mary, thank you so much for writing this blog and providing helpful information about TNR.

    Connie, please don't apologize for speaking your truth. I appreciate it, and I think the vets you dealt with desperately needed to hear it.

    December 17, 2008

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