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Niagara Board of Health’s 8-0 vote reverses stance on feral cats

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Board of Health, unanimously reversing its position of two months ago, voted Thursday to advise the County Legislature that it opposes a system of trying to control the feral cat population by trapping, neutering, vaccinating and releasing the cats.

The 8-0 vote came after a veterinarian who serves on the board, Dr. Donald S. Lewis, of Lockport, sent his colleagues an email saying his research showed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a wide range of veterinary groups all oppose the practice, called TNVR, or “trap-neuter-vaccinate-return.”

It calls for volunteers to trap the cats, pay to have them spayed or neutered and also to have them vaccinated against rabies, and then to release them back to where they were, with volunteers allowed to feed them.

In January, Buffalo attorney and animal lover Peter A. Reese and a law student from the University at Buffalo Law School’s Animal Law Pro Bono Project addressed the Board of Health in favor of TNVR.

The board, which had been referred the issue by County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, was impressed enough to pass a motion to send a letter to the Legislature endorsing the program.

Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said Reese wasn’t asking the county for money, simply for encouragement to local governments that TNVR should be permitted.

Several municipalities try to prevent assistance to colonies of feral cats or community cats. The latter are friendly enough to be taken into a home; ferals are not.

However, after the board’s vote on Jan. 22 was publicized, there was a backlash from opponents of TNVR who said the practice actually facilitates the spread of rabies and other diseases. Last month, the board voted to shelve the letter of support until more information was received.

Lewis said in his email to his colleagues Wednesday night that Dr. David G. Monti, president of the Niagara County Association of Veterinarians, strongly opposes TNVR.