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East County Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019 3 months ago

Purr-fect program puts cats to work in Manatee County EMS stations

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County EMS finds value in providing homes to feral cats.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Ginger, a gray and orange calico cat, might not have had a place to call home when Manatee County Animal Services took her in this spring, but while relaxing in the shade of an Emergency Medical Services truck at her new home, EMS Station 5 on Dam Road, she looked quite comfortable.

“We have adopted her, and she’s super spoiled,” Paramedic Sherri Pellien said. “She follows us around and loves on us. She’s very sweet.

Ginger is one of six feral cats living at Station 5 as part of a program Manatee County Animal Services is piloting with the EMS Division.

In late April, Animal Services placed nine cats at rural EMS stations — six at Station 5 and three at Station 6 in Ellenton — where they can enjoy their

outdoor lifestyles while helping out by catching rodents.

Manatee County Animal Services Division Chief Sarah Brown said Animals Services last year started its Working Cat Program, which places outdoor cats — or “community cats,” as Brown prefers to call them — at locations where they can live outside and possibly help with rodent control.

Then in April, the idea expanded to EMS stations after Brown reached out to EMS Chief Paul DiCicco for ideas about finding homes for community cats.

Everyone who was involved loved the idea.

“When you have a bad shift, animals are not judgmental,” Pellien said of why she likes having the cats around. “You seek them for their affection.”

Larry Luh, the assistant chief of operations for Manatee’s EMS division, said the EMS employees treat the cats like they are their own.

“Some of our staff members have even asked to have dogs at the houses,” Luh said. “It makes it more like home. It’s therapeutic.”

Brown said having EMTs and paramedics around also benefits the cats because stations are occupied 24/7, and staff members can alert Animal Services of any problems they see.

When one of the cats at Station 5 developed a cough, EMS workers called Brown’s office and returned the cat temporarily for medical care.

“They’re all medically inclined,” Brown said of EMS employees. “It translates well even to animals.”

Pellien said Ginger is the most social of Station 5’s community cats, but paramedics and EMTs keep their eyes out for their other feline friends. Pellien herself has seen three of the six, but the other three remain elusive.

Ginger, the most social of six community cats at Manatee County EMS Station 5, relaxes in the shade. She likes to be around people but prefers to live outside.

]]Pellien and her partner, EMT Richard Traugot, have worked to make sure the cats at Station 5 stay safe by constructing a shelter for them.

“It’s really awesome,” Brown said of the structure. “We need to do this at all the stations.”

Brown said stations 5 and 6 are serving as pilot locations for the program because not all EMS stations will be suitable for having community cats. Those in highly trafficked areas, for example, would not be safe.

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