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Lending a helping hand

You see them everywhere you go. You might see them in a parking lot behind your favorite restaurant, or scurrying around your neighborhood when you come home late at night. You see them all over the USF campus. These creatures that surround us in our everyday life are feral cats, and according to the United States Humane Society, there are about 92,000 of them in Hillsborough County.

A single female cat can have up to 36 kittens each year, which presents a major problem to the Tampa Bay area. Local animal shelters euthanized 20,000 feral cats last year, and as the feral cat population continues to increase, the number of cats euthanized will grow, as well. However, Linda and Frank Hamilton said they believe they have found a solution that will work to reduce the feral cat population in Hillsborough County.

Linda Hamilton, a systems consultant, and Frank Hamilton, director for programming at the USF Leadership Center, began the Animal Coalition of Tampa (ACT) with the overall intent to bring down the number of animals going into humane services.

“ACT was born out of a realization that adopting animals is great, but it doesn’t stop overpopulation,” Frank said.

ACT works in three ways to reduce the population of feral pets. By using an aggressive spay and neuter program, the organization is able to lower the number of feral pets born. ACT also has innovative adoption programs and offers humane education to create awareness among members of the community.

ACT holds the spay and neuter program, dubbed “Project Spay Day,” monthly with the help of 112 volunteering veterinarians in Hillsborough County. Using a trap-neuter-return approach, veterinarians use their skills and services to spay or neuter feral cats, give them rabies shots, and then return them to feral cat colonies around the Hillsborough County area. Methods used in the past relied on a catch-and-kill approach, which Hamilton perceives as inhumane.

“This is something that, as a population, we should do,” he said. “As Gandhi wrote, ‘The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals.'”

So far, 13 “Spay Days” have spayed or neutered 805 feral and stray cats, and have enlisted the help of 195 caretakers. Caretakers include a wide variety of people from all walks of life, who are responsible for feeding and looking after the feral cat colonies. USF Cats is the organization that takes care of the university’s feral cats. ACT does not do personal pet adoptions and does not spay or neuter cats that are domesticated.

“It involves a community,” Frank said. “This is a transformation, and it takes five to seven years. This is a journey.”Other major cities that have initiated programs similar to “Spay Day” have had high rates of success. San Francisco now euthanizes 2.9 animals per 1,000, compared to 33 per 1,000 in the Tampa Bay area, which is more than double the national average of 15.7 animals per 1,000.

ACT is coming to USF this Saturday. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to noon in the College of Business Administration (BSN) in Room 1301. The subject of discussion will be “Working Together to Make Tampa a Pet-Friendly Community.”

The next “Spay Day” is planned for Feb. 9 and will be held at a local veterinary office. “Spay Day” caters only to feral and stray cats and will also offer cat traps for $5 per week plus a deposit.

Contact Whitney Meersat