Lake Panasoffkee Animal Clinic has been hired by Sumter County to provide veterinary services for its trap-and-release feral cat program, which began Jan. 1.
The program, based on a similar one in Jacksonville, is designed to reduce the number of cats euthanized at the county animal shelter.
Feral cats, wild cats that live outside without collars, chips or other identification, will be captured and brought either to the shelter or the clinic, where they will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear-notched, then released back into their neighborhoods. Nuisance cats caught again will be released into a rural area.
Veterinarian Shannon Kennedy and his wife, Ann Toto, staff the clinic, which is affiliated with the Floral City Animal Clinic in Inverness. Kennedy studied at the University of Georgia and Clemson University. He has been praised by the Animus Foundation, which operates an Ocala animal sanctuary, for saving a Florida cooter, a large freshwater turtle.
The contract, which extends to September 2020 with two-year renewals, calls for paying the clinic $59.50 for spaying female cats, $48 for neutering male cats and $29 to vaccinate cats previously sterilized.
The clinic will be paid $100 for off-premises visits, including coming to the county shelter to give rabies vaccinations. The county will receive a 20 percent discount for other animal services.
At a cost of $125 per hour plus the off-premises fee, the clinic also will provide monthly training sessions for animal shelter staff on how to recognize the need for emergency care, pain management or euthanasia.
Before the feral cat program, county policy was to kill feral cats within 24 hours.
The policy change came after animal activists flooded county board meetings for several months, demanding that the county convert the shelter into a no-kill shelter where 90 percent or more of the animals are saved.
Before the activists began coming to meetings, the county euthanized about 40 percent of dogs and cats at the shelter. Recent numbers have been much lower.
In November, 27 animals, or 17 percent of 157 shelter animals, were euthanized including a dozen dogs and 14 cats. In October, eight dogs and 21 cats, or 16 percent of the animals received, were killed. December statistics were not available.
Three years ago, the county contracted with the Sumter County Humane Society/SPCA to handle adoptions of shelter animals.