By Suzanne Schmidt
Zephyrhills resident Diane Merlo knows the names and personalities of all the cats she helps because that is how much she cares about them.
She has been rescuing cats in her neighborhood, Tropical Acres Estates, for four years. She decided she wanted to be able to help more cats so she started a nonprofit organization called WeCats Corp, which stands for we care about their survival.
“I catch them, socialize them and then adopt them,” Merlo said. “I have taken in 62 cats and have adopted most of them. I am doing what I can, but there are plenty out there that I can’t help.”
In addition to catching and rehabilitating feral and domestic cats, Merlo is also working to educate the public about trap, neuter and release programs. That is where a cat is trapped humanely, neutered or spayed and released back into the wild.
“I want to get the community involved and teach them how to solve the problem,” Merlo said. “We need to stop it at the root by implementing trap, neuter, release programs throughout the community. We wouldn’t have to adopt so many cats if we didn’t have them in the first place. Fighting the problem the way we are now is like trying to empty the ocean with a bucket.”
Most of the cats she has helped through the years have been from her neighborhood, but lately she has been getting a lot of calls about boxes of kittens being dropped off throughout Zephyrhills. She has been playing the role of mom to all the kittens since they were too young to be separated from their mom when she took them in. She is currently caring for three kittens that are only 4 weeks old.
“I have a box of kittens that were only 9 days old when they were dumped off,” Merlo said. “They can’t stay warm without the body heat of their mom. They can get hypothermia and die. People have got to stop dumping off kittens before they are 6-weeks-old, until that point they need their mom to live.”
For the first few weeks she needs to feed them every two hours and then after that until they are six weeks old, she has to feed them every four to five hours. She also uses a heating pad to keep them warm and helps them go to the bathroom.
“I do everything the mom would do because if I don’t they could have problems,” Merlo said. “They are so dependant on you.”
Merlo and her husband, Tony, have been caring for the cats with their own money but she is planning fundraisers to help offset the costs.
A Cher impersonator concert is set for Sept. 11 and an Elvis impersonator concert is planned Nov. 20 and 21 at the Wesley Chapel Center for the Performing Arts, 30651 Wells Road.
“My husband has been supporting this since it started and it can be expensive,” Merlo said. “We have tried to have fundraisers here in the park, but I want to be able to help more cats. My intention is to build a facility where the unwanted cats can go and live forever. I would like to have individual homes for each of the cats. I would like them to live in homes not cages.”
Rosemarie Lyons, education coordinator for Pasco County Animal Services, said nonprofit organizations such as the WeCats play an important role in controlling rampant pet overpopulation.
In June of this year, Animal Services took in 678 cats and 351 dogs. She said the county does not have a trap, neuter, release program but they can humanely trap cats and dogs. The ones that can be adopted or transferred are all spayed or neutered before being adopted.
The animals that are transferable go to a nonprofit including Lost Angels Animal Rescue, SPCA of the Suncoast or the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Feral cats and wild dogs that are not adoptable or transferable are euthanized.
“Dogs come in through a variety of ways,” Lyons said. “All the cats that come in are here because no one wants them. At any given time we may have a couple hundred animals.”
Lyons said spaying and neutering pets is the most important thing people can do to not only keep the pet population down but also to keep the pet healthy.
“People think of spaying or neutering their pets in their own human terms,” Lyons said. “Animals don’t feel bad about getting spayed or neutered. They can actually become healthier and live a longer life. It is the humane thing to do.”
Cats can have up to three litters a year and they can start as young as 6-months-old.
“Every time a cat is spayed or neutered, that is 100 other cats that are saved from being born into a world that doesn’t want them,” Lyons said. “Getting a cat from a shelter or rescue is the best thing to do. They have had their shots and been deflead and neutered or spayed. They are also micro chipped. It saves people a lot of money.”
Lyons also said she would like to see more people take better care of their cats.
“I wish more people would take ownership of their cat,” Lyons said. “Many people will feed the cats, but they won’t take ownership of them. They are not providing the animals with the services they need. I love cats and I think they should be considered part of the family.”
Cats who roam can be hit by a car, get feline leukemia or feline AIDS or they may have to fight with raccoons over food in a dumpster which could give them rabies.
For more information about WeCats, visit www.wecats.com or call (813) 943-4221.
Pasco Animal Services in Land O’ Lakes.
New Pasco County Animal Shelter hours
The Pasco County Animal Services recently announced new hours for the county’s animal shelter, located on Lake Patience Road in Land O’ Lakes. The change includes closing the shelter on Mondays because of budget cuts.
The new hours took effect this week. The shelter is closed Sundays and Mondays and open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The shelter will remain closed for federal holidays.
Pet adoptions, animal surrenders, claiming animals and licensing will be done on these days and the following hours:
–Tuesday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Wednesday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Thursday from 12-6:30 p.m.
–Friday from 12-4:30 p.m.
–Saturday from 12-4:30 p.m.
Customer service and field service hours will remain 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hour field services are for emergencies only.
For more information about animal services, visit www.pascocountyfl.net or call (813) 929-1212, (352) 521-5194 or (727) 834-3216.