When rabies was confirmed in a feral kitten born to an unvaccinated barn cat on a rural property north of Fort Collins in July, Leslie Vogt, founder of Northern Colorado Friends of Feral Cats, reacted by pointing out an increasing need for the work done by her non-profit organization.
In the last four-and-a-half years, NCFF has trapped, spayed or neutered and returned 3,000 feral cats to their colonies. Vogt said this approach, known as TNR, is the most efficient and humane way of decreasing feral cat numbers and stopping the euthanasia of these cats at shelters. She originally got involved in this work when, as a board member of the Larimer County Humane Society, she learned that 70 percent of the cats who enter shelters do not come out alive.
Feral cats become a candidate for TNR when people, usually in rural areas, report them as a problem. While some cats are born feral, or wild, many have been abandoned by owners and have learned to survive, often fed by animal lovers, but owned by no one. NCFF charges a minimal fee for their services when possible but relies on grants and donations to continue their work.
When NCFF has a list of 100 or so cats, volunteers organize a night-time trapping event. Typically they are able to trap about 80 percent of cats on the list and deliver them to veterinarians for neutering or spaying. Each cat is vaccinated for rabies and distemper before they are returned to their colonies. Seventy-five cats were trapped in June. Mass trapping occurs monthly, with some smaller activity in between. Weld County has a bigger problem with feral cats than Larimer County and much of their work is there according to Vogt.
Trapping is accomplished without ever touching the animals and does not present a risk to the volunteer trappers. Confirmation of rabies in a feral cat in Larimer County will not curtail the work of NCFF.
“This is the first case of a rabid cat in the county in 45 years,” Vogt said. She emphasized that cats are not good vectors (carriers) of rabies to humans because they die so quickly of the disease. She questioned the need to immediately destroy the other cats found with the rabid kitten explaining that quarantining could have been a valid option.
One Larimer County veterinarian said that because the gestation period for feline rabies can be as long as six months and because maintaining a quarantine is a difficult and expensive process, it was not a viable option for the cats that that been in close contact with the rabid kitten.
Larimer County Health Department spokeswoman Jane Viste said that since May 2010, rabies has been found in the county in skunks, raccoons, foxes and bison. Rabies in these land animals is referred to as terrestrial rabies and presents a more significant risk to humans than rabies found in airborne bats that become a danger in the rare instances when they find their way into someone’s bedroom at night.
Viste encourages people to get out and enjoy the natural world, but to refrain from touching any wild animals.
“An animal can be cute and cuddly and still have rabies,” she said. “Be aware that rabies can cause personality changes in animals that make them more dangerous. Wash bite wounds and begin rabies treatment promptly.”
Meanwhile NCFF will continue their regular schedule of trapping, neutering and returning feral cats to their colonies, saving their lives, keeping them healthy, and preventing them from increasing the cat population.