SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
On a cool, misty October morning a mother cat rummages through the garbage can. She needs to find food so she can nurse her litter of four kittens. Her instinct is to hunt the various birds, insects and rodents common to the area, but feeding the kittens has sapped her strength and energy levels to the point where anything she scavenges will do.
A female staff sergeant heads into the bathroom for her morning shower. She sees the mother cat slink through a hole in the wall below the sink and hears faint cries from within. Looking into the wall, she finds the mother cat living there with her tiny babies.
It's a common story on Soto Cano Air Base, where an expanding cat population has led to the stray animals living in very close proximity to military members working here. The majority of the cats have become domesticated and do not hesitate to approach people - which could represent a health concern if the animals bear diseases and parasites.
Fortunately, the Joint Task Force-Bravo veterinarian clinic staff started an initiative Oct. 15 to help control the population of cats on base and ensure the cats that are here are healthy. Healthy cats are not only beneficial to the health of military and civilian members on base, but they are also in better condition to help control the pests on base, said Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Delarosa, JTF-Bravo veterinary technician.
As part of the effort, the veterinary staff catches cats and brings them to the clinic.
"The cats are first screened for feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, heartworm and rabies to make sure they don't have any diseases," said Army Maj. Michael McCown, a veterinarian from Southeast Regional Veterinary Command. "If the cats are cleared they will be immunized, have a tracking chip implanted under the skin and be released back where they were found on base."
"The process is painless," Sergeant Delarosa said, noting the use of local anesthesia for the checkups and microchip implantation -- and general anesthesia during the spaying and neutering process that follows. This effort will keep the number of cats on base controlled, the sergeant said, while the serial-controlled microchips will be used in a database tracking the age, health and status of each cat tagged.
The team can only perform minor surgeries a few days each month while the veterinarian is on base, but they will continue to catch, screen, immunize and tag the cats regularly, since the veterinary technician is qualified to do these procedures, Major McCown said.
One way for base residents to visually determine which cats that have been treated is by the presence of a light blue collar. However, Sergeant Delarosa said that even if the collars fall off the staff still has the computer chips to fall back on.
"We still have rules in place to not feed or pick up the cats on base, but the work we are doing is making sure we have a healthy population of cats here," Sergeant Delarosa said. "If anyone sees any cats around base without collars they should notify the veterinary clinic as soon as possible."