June is American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Cat Month

June is American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Cat Month

There's no question that Americans love pets. There are more pets than children. Most homes have a pet, including about 40 million homes with at least one cat, adding up to over 86 million pet cats, according to the American Pet Products Association. Also, polls suggest that over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family.

Despite all that, estimates are that every minute, approximately four cats are euthanized in U.S. shelters. It's tragic and shameful because the majority of these pets are adoptable.

June is American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Cat Month. It's easy enough to visit a local shelter, and even easier to let your mouse sniff out a new pet at Petfinder.com. There's certainly no shortage of adoptable cats.

There's a "no kill" movement spreading across America, celebrating the notion that far too many pets are needlessly killed in shelters. Of course, I'm on board with that general notion. However, many passionate individuals and organizations espousing this movement are, in my opinion, a tad too fervent -- blaming any shelter which isn't "no kill" for euthanizing animals.

No one I know who works at a shelter wants to euthanize. But if there are, say, five shelters in a community, and three become "no kill," the reality is that the problem only shifts to the remaining two facilities, which then carry the euthanization burden.

There's only one way to solve the problem: Reduce the numbers of pets coming into shelters in the first place. In many places, this has been achieved for dogs. Some shelters actually have a shortage of what they consider adoptable dogs, so they "import" from other local facilities, other counties, or other states. I don't know of a single shelter complaining about not having enough adoptable cats.

So, how do we impact cat overpopulation? Here are three steps I believe can change the equation:

1. Indoors Only: If "indoors only" really becames the mantra for pet cats, spay/neuter compliance would increase. Confining intact cats indoors, and living with their "idiosyncrasies" can be challenging. One added benefit is that life indoors is safer, and as a consequence cats live longer,healthier lives.

2. Bad Kitty: Kidney disease and cancers kill many cats, but bad behavior is likely the No. 1 cause of death. When family members get frustrated and fed up with a cat eliminating outside the litter box, scratching the sofa, or yowling overnight, the human/animal bond fractures, landing the pet in the local animal shelter. Worse, the "offender" simply gets the heave-ho. Either way, the odds of survival aren't great.

More resources are available than ever before to solve behavior issues, but not all cat owners know that help exists or can afford such help. Increasingly, shelters offer low cost or free behavior counseling. You can locate a cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists or American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 

Encouraging owners to get qualified help before behavior problems become overwhelming is key.

3. Trap, Neuter, Return: TNR programs utilize community volunteers (often in conjunction with non-profits who raise dollars for this purpose or animal shelters) who humanely trap feral cats, have them spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies before releasing back to their colonies.

Some shelters still use their precious resources (shelter space and employee/volunteer time) attempting to socialize and adopt out feral cats. Instead, I endorse TNR. I argue, overall, that most feral cats are more content living in their colonies, letting shelters focus on other, more adoptable cats.

If you're thinking, "What can I do?" Adopt a cat! If you already have a cat or cats, volunteer at your local shelter.

A great and free resource for all cat owners is called "CATegorical Care: An Owners Guide to America's No. 1 Companion."

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services

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  • Steve--studies show that between 88 and 92% of owned cats are already speutered. When Karen Johnson did her first surveys of Santa Clara County in the 90s, she discovered this fact, and even determined that the reproduction rate of owned cats did not approach "replacement rate" (new cats acquired by people who were replacing a cat they no longer had, for whatever reason). The excess kittens were coming from stray and feral populations. By advocating TNR, area shelters that cooperated with her recommendations saw a substantial drop in feline euthanasia. (Note: I sat on the SCC Animal Advisory Board with Karen for 4 years, and saw her research up front. I also saw her followup research that was funded by UofDavis.) Other areas have since done similar studies, with similar results.

    Any shelter that does not institute an aggressive TNR and outreach adoption program is never going to reduce their feline population. You are right about the behavioral aspects of abandonment--I have rescued and placed old cats, shy cats, ugly cats, etc; but I have never had much luck placing the inappropriate eliminator. Sometimes I have made "alternate arrangements" for them, but I currently have a rescued pee-er that is declawed on all 4 living in my pee-proof room, and he will probably stay there.

    That is why I very much believe that any shelter that "does not want to kill" does not have to. *Any* shelter that wants to go No-Kill can do so, and most that have, have done so almost overnight. Reno has an intake rate 3 times that of New York (as based on population), and yet they are No Kill and NYC is not. Reno is not special case, unless you call a willingness to stop the killing a "special case". I have worked in shelters, with shelters, on County Boards, and have done rescue, and I firmly believe in the tenets of the No Kill Equation and that any shelter that is still killing the healthy and adoptable is doing so because it lacks the will to change. Stop being a shelter apologist, because they don't deserve it. It's no longer the 70s, when shelter intakes were 5 TIMES higher than they are now, and the city pounds really were a killing field.

    And go out and adopt a cat!

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