Homeless Cats Are Fighting on Several Fronts

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cat on play towerHomeless cats need help across the board. Shelters are overwhelmed, adoption organizations have more animals than adopters and not enough cats and kittens are spayed/neutered to keep the overpopulation problem from growing each year.

The start of a new year is a great time to reflect on the state of cat homelessness. As you’ll see, there are many areas where our feline friends need help.

The shelters’ struggle continues

Shelters do their best to manage a huge population of cats.

Almost every shelter struggles with resource constraints, fewer employees than they need, and limited finances. They rely on help from volunteers, foster parents and donations to get the work done, but it’s always an uphill battle — especially for shelters housing cats.

Cat homelessness has grown worse in recent years

The cat population in the U.S. is greater than the dog population, and it appears to be growing more rapidly in recent years. Cats’ reproductive cycles are more frequent than dogs’, especially in warmer regions. Cats can have multiple “kitten seasons,” or times when more kittens are born than usual, each year. Shelters that used to see just one annual spike in their cat intake may now see several. An adult cat can have 2 or 3 litters per year, and each cycle may bring a flood of kittens to shelters.

Few shelters have the space or other resources to care for so many cats all at once. Cats easily outnumber people looking to adopt them throughout the U.S. As a result, a cat’s time in a shelter can be lengthy, or it may be subject to euthanasia after a holding period.

Unfortunately, the longer a cat’s stay in a shelter, the more likely it is to be euthanized because it becomes sick, or because the shelter needs the space for incoming cats.

Fostering is especially helpful to cats and kittens

Kittens are especially vulnerable in shelters. Many come into the shelter when they are quite young, and not fully developed. Often, they are more prone to illness and have a lower survival rate than adult cats.

During kitten seasons, when shelters find themselves housing mothers with young kittens or kittens without a mother cat, the groups often need help from foster parents to save cats from euthanasia. Without a mother cat, the odds of survival for kittens younger than 8 weeks old are not good. They may need special care and extra resources (such as bottle-feeding) that requires a strong network of foster caregivers.

Foster parents give shelter pets a temporary home while the shelter staff and volunteers continue to search for their forever homes. This setup can prevent illness, enable a pet to heal from surgery or sickness, free up space in the shelter, and ultimately, keep the pet from being euthanized. Those willing to take on the challenge of caring for kittens without their mothers, especially if bottle-feeding is needed, are almost certainly saving their furry little friends’ lives. A foster parent who cares for a mother and her kittens can save a whole family of cats.

Fostering is also a great way to open your home to a pet without making a long-term commitment. You can help a homeless cat avoid euthanasia while giving another pet a chance to move into the shelter and find its forever home. And many a foster parent has turned into a “foster failure,” or a foster parent who ends up making their temporary pet a permanent member of the family. (yours truly included!).

Prevent the problem: Spay/neuter more cats

Cat homelessness is a long-term problem. It’s clear that the way to prevent litters — and overpopulation — is spaying/neutering. Two months of age is an appropriate time to spay/neuter a cat. The Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ guidelines for veterinary medical care say that cats as young as 6 to 8 weeks of age, or 2 pounds in weight, may be spayed/neutered before adoption.

Shelters are going a long way toward preventing overpopulation by spaying/neutering pets before they make them available for adoption. In a recent study by Ipsos Marketing, many adopters said that this is one of the key benefits of adopting their pet from a shelter. They don’t need to worry about the surgery because their new furry friend is altered already.

Cats need some good PR

One study in 2012 indicated that cats seem to have a public image problem. In the study, “Keeping Pets (Dogs and Cats) in Homes,” conducted by the American Humane Association (AHA) and funded by PetSmart Charities, 35% of those who have never owned a pet indicated that they simply “don’t like cats.” (For comparison, only 12% said that they “don’t like” dogs.) It also found found that only 34% of previous cat owners would consider owning a cat again.

The AHA study also revealed that people who grew up with a cat were no more likely to consider getting a cat than people who did not have a cat as a childhood pet. That’s different from childhood dog owners, who, as adults, are more likely to have a dog. Overall, dogs are enjoying more positive adoption rates than cats. In order to save cats’ lives, we have to help improve cats’ public image and boost their adoption rates.

Cats fit better than people think

The odd thing about these dismal numbers is that most people’s lifestyles are better suited to having cats than dogs.

The amount of daily care, time, and attention cats require is generally less than a dog demands. Cats are easier to move and relocate — I’ve even flown with mine (stowed neatly, in their carriers, under the seat in front of me) many times. They are less costly to acquire and lower maintenance overall than dogs are, yet people seem to be drawn to dogs as pets. While dogs are widely recognized as great companions, it seems that cats need more people to give them the benefit of the doubt. Give a cat a chance — rest assured, there’s one out there with the right personality and characteristics for virtually every lifestyle!

You can help save a cat

The bottom line is: cats need our help more than ever in 2013.

Consider adopting or fostering a homeless cat. Perhaps you’re interested in volunteering with your local trap-neuter-return program. And of course, you can always donate your time or money to your local shelter. Volunteering can be fun and rewarding, and no amount of money is too small to give. Shelters (and the homeless cats in them) need all the help they can get.



Thanks to Shirley for bringing aotintetn to humane methods for dealing with feral cats in our area. Next month, Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance (RMACA) opens The Feline Fix the area's first affordable high quality, high volume spay/neuter clinic for feral and stray cats. Currently, RMACA spays and neuters approximately 3,000 ferals and strays annually. With The Feline Fix, RMACA can potentially double these numbers. With approximately 30,000 cats being euthanized in Colorado every year, spay/neuter is the only solution to the cat overpopulation problem.


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