The Humane Society of Levy County Inc. was recently awarded a $20,000 grant to help spay and neuter dogs and cats in the county.
Mary Flickinger, a representative from the spay and neuter program, said part of the money will go toward helping low-income families in the county spay or neuter their dogs and cats. There will be a $5 co-pay, and those wishing to take part in the program--which is already booked solid until January--must fill out an application and show proof of low income.
The rest of the money will go to a trap and release program aimed at controlling the county's breeding population of feral cats. The cats, captured in recently acquired cages, will be brought to Chiefland Animal Hospital where they will be sterilized and have their ears clipped for future identification after being re-released into the wild.
"Feral cats are the main problem in the county," she said. "They're just too prolific. We all love cats, but we don't need too many."
She said that although feral cats are a problem throughout Florida, Levy County, because of its lack of programs addressing the issue, may have a bigger problem than other counties.
According the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in 2003 there were about 5 million feral and owned (but free-ranging cats) in the state.
Dr. D. Esler, Chief Veterinarian at Chiefland Animal Hospital, said keeping the feral cat population stable keeps other feral cats from coming into the area. The animals often have ear mites and upper respiratory problems she said. And there's also the potential that some have feline leukemia or feline AIDS, though she said cats being brought in for the program are not being tested for those two diseases.
Feral cats can also displace and prey upon the area's native wildlife.
According to FWC, feral cats and cats that are allowed to run wild have an adverse impact on millions of wild animals in Florida each year, most notably threatened or endangered species of mice, rabbits, various birds and even sea turtles. Diseases spread by feral cats may even have an impact on the Florida panther.
Esler said she's glad that the program received the grant this year, but added that the money will not be available again for two years. Donations can be sent to the Levy County Humane Society at P.O. Box 802, Bronson, Fl, 32621.