The Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation Introduces New Animal Welfare Program

By Libby Hopkins

There have been some heated debates lately as to whether or not the new initiative offered by the Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation and the Hillsborough County Veterinary Medical Society (HCVMS) will help the feral cat problem in Hillsborough County.

The new initiative is called AWAKE. It’s a comprehensive approach to animal issues in Hillsborough County and it represents four major components: animal welfare, adoption, kids (health) and education.

Some veterinarians and animal rescue organizations see the AWAKE initiative as a good start in solving feral cat over-population, while some cat advocates see the initiative as a failure and should stick to the Trap Neuter and Release (TNR) method as a way of dealing with over-population.

Dr. Christy Layton, of the Timberline Pet Hospital and Resort in Plant City, is the President of the HCVMS and she believes that AWAKE is feasible because the initiative also includes setting up cat colonies that will be managed by the county. “The veterinary community wants to participate in a long term solution that benefits all citizens of the community, including feral cats,” Layton said. “We believe a hybrid program that includes the principles of trap, evaluate, neuter, vaccinate, adopt and contain (in sanctuaries) makes the most sense and takes into consideration all the relevant concerns.”

Amy Howland, co-director/founder of Dogma Pet Rescue, feels that AWAKE will be a better option than TNR. “I think it’s a great start to a real solution to the cat over-population in our county,” Howland said. “TNR is not cutting it and it’s not fair to the cats.”

Dr. Katie Thompson, of the Veterinary Center at FishHawk in Lithia, used to be an advocate for TNR, but after doing some research on the topic, she had a change of heart. “I became more educated and can testify to the fact that these are not perfectly happy animals living a wonderful life,” Thompson said. “It’s not in anyone best interest to cure an animal only to have it put back on the street to become sick or hurt again.”

Jeanie Cohen is the co-founder of Cat Crusaders and she believes the AWAKE initiative is not the best solution for feral cat problem and doubts the effort of the county’s plan for monitored cat sanctuaries. She is a strong supporter of TNR. “There are zero tax dollars being used for TNR because it is privately funded,” Cohen said. “TNR has reduced the euthanasia of cats in the county and we need to continue with aggressive TNR because there is no other option.” The one thing that all parties involved with the feral cat problem can agree on is that something needs to be done about it and they all want what’s best for the cats. For more information on the AWAKE initiative, visit www.hahf.org.