ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A rabies outbreak in Carlsbad has prompted a local shelter to suspend efforts to trap feral cats.
Volunteers for the program run by the Noah's Ark Animal Shelter recently trapped a rabid skunk and learned that it had tangled with a group of feral cats. The group traps feral cats in Carlsbad so they can be vaccinated, spayed or neutered and released back into the wild.
The shelter's board suspended the program because of the danger last week.
At least a dozen Eddy County residents have been forced to get rabies shots this year, and more than 30 pet dogs have been euthanized because of exposure.
Noah's Ark Director Angela Cary told the Carlsbad Current-Argus (http://bit.ly/IdAP3q) that the shelter is not abandoning the program, just suspending it until the rabies outbreak wanes.
"Unfortunately, more stray/feral cats will be euthanized in the next few months than ever, but we are doing so in an attempt to protect the people and pets in the community," Cary said.
Carlsbad Police Department Lt. Jennifer Moyers said most of the cats that tangled with the rabid skunk have been trapped and animal control officers are still attempting to trap the remaining three cats in the group.
A rabid skunk was also observed with a group of more than 10 feral cats on Canal Street. Moyers said last week that seven of the cats have been trapped and animal control officers continue to trap in that area.
Cary said residents are conditioned to "run the other way" if they encounter a skunk, but their first instinct with a friendly cat, especially when it approaches a child, is to pet it.
"The only thing that will keep us from having to euthanize more pets is if every owner in Carlsbad does the right thing and keeps their animals up-to-date on rabies vaccinations," she said.
"If rabies gets a foothold in the huge feral cat population, it would be extremely dangerous for pets and people, especially children."
Each year, about 50 to 70 New Mexicans receive post-exposure treatment for rabies. But health officials were alarmed by the concentration of 12 treatments in a single county in just a couple of months.
The cause of the outbreak appears to be a combination of a large skunk population and the region's extended drought, forcing skunks to look for food in areas where there are people and pets.
Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus
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