The Pampered Kitty

Paws to Consider

There are approximately 73 million owned dogs in the U.S., with 39% of households owning at least one dog. More than 70% of owned dogs are spayed or neutered.

There are approximately 90 million owned cats in the U.S., with 34% of households owning at least one cat. On average, owners have two cats. About 84% of owned cats are spayed or neutered.

Sixteen percent of owned dogs and 15% of owned cats were adopted from an animal shelter. Sadly, this is a statistic that has not risen much over many decades. Can we really cite “lack of homes” as a factor in the continued overpopulation of pets and as a reason for euthanasia when over 80% of owned cats and dogs are obtained through non-shelter sources?

The city of Indianapolis voted to pass an ordinance in 2005 establishing TNR to care, protect and break the breeding cycle of un-owned cats. This ordinance makes it legal for the city’s designated non-profit agency, IndyFeral, to trap and sterilize feral cats and return them to their managed colonies. Go to www.indyferal.org to learn more about this program.

About 20% of companion animals produce at least one litter before being sterilized. Given the numbers (above) of owned dogs and cats, the amount of litters still being produced is staggering. Here’s another way to look at it: with dogs being 15x and cats 45x more prolific than humans, it becomes very clear that humane organizations must make it possible to sterilize 100% of animals prior to adoption.

We know from studies that compliance with spay/neuter contracts and deposit systems are only 60%. We know that contracts may not stand up in court. If only a small percentage of the pets we place for adoption go on to have ‘just one litter,’ are we not, in fact, contributing to the very problems we’re working so desperately to solve? (from Spay USA)

75% of feral/stray cats are either in heat, pregnant or lactating most of the year.

The number one cause of death for dogs and cats remains euthanasia. With 73 million pet dogs, 90 million pet cats and an estimated 60-90 million stray and feral cats, it cannot be over-emphasized the importance of pre-pubertal neutering and the sterilization of stray and feral cats.

How can we demand that the public spay/neuter their pets, if shelters and rescues do not sterilize the animals they have been entrusted with?

Less than half of the kittens born in the wild only survive to six months.

Dr. Michael Stoskopf of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine saw a 36 percent mean decrease in population in the first two years after cats in a colony he studied were surgically sterilized.

The general public does not understand the dire consequences of ‘just one litter.’ They don’t understand how pets reproduce. If we neuter before adoption, their lack of understanding, procrastination and financial priorities all become non-issues. (from Spay USA)

It is estimated that two-thirds of all owned cats are allowed outdoors at least part of the time.

A contributor to free-roaming, stray cats is many people’s misimpression that a cat they no longer want has a better chance of finding a new home if it is abandoned than if it is taken to a shelter – and local shelters accepting owner-surrendered animals are getting harder to find.

The cities of Norfolk and Richmond (Virginia) have each enacted an ordinance to require all dogs and cats be spayed or neutered prior to adoption.

The city of Spokane (Washington) recently passed an initiative providing that one percent of the general fund be used for pet sterilization.

TNR should not be a viable option when free-roaming cats live near endangered wildlife.

Dr. Julie Levy, associate professor with a small animal practice at the University of Florida, indicates that free-roaming cats may well approach 73 million. Un-owned, free-roaming cats include stray cats; socialized lost or abandoned cats; and un-socialized feral cats. She states that “Any realistic plan to control feral cats must recognize the magnitude of the feral cat population, the need to engage in continuous control efforts, and the significance of the public’s affection for feral cats.”

The State of Minnesota found that every $1 invested in a low-income spay/neuter program resulted in a $19 savings in animal control costs.

Most companion animal protection groups and shelters spend less than 5% of their budgets on neutering assistance programs. According to Peter Marsh of Solution to End Overpopulation of Pets, “any system that spends 19 times more to treat a problem than to prevent it in the first place is doomed to an endless struggle.” Furthermore, the most important reason to invest in neutering assistance programs is that we won’t ever end pet overpopulation if we don’t.

During a five-year period in New Hampshire, with a statewide neutering assistance program, shelters throughout the state experienced a 60% decrease in euthanasia and 22,000 fewer cats and dogs entering the shelter system.

With cats, the two top reasons for not spaying or neutering are cost and lack of knowledge of reproduction. Too many people are unaware that cats can be sexually mature at four or five months old and can have multiple litters in one season. Fifteen to 20% of owned cats have already had at least one litter before being sterilized.

Dr. Margaret Slater of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine outlines options for controlling unwanted cat populations – TNR, adoption, euthanasia, trap and remove for euthanasia, relocation, sanctuaries, and eradication. Of those, she views TNR as the most viable option. On a large scale, finding homes for feral cats or sanctuaries is simply not feasible.

Humane organizations have not placed enough emphasis on education, behavioral counseling, and neutering assistance programs.

The University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS was home to a large colony of stray and feral cats. Rather than trap and euthanize them, staff members and students came together to present a nonlethal TNR program to university officials. Dubbed FURR, volunteers trapped, neutered and returned ferals to the colony, kittens were socialized and adopted to off-campus families and no kittens have been born into the colony. From an original count of 100 strays and ferals, the colony is now stabilized at 30 cats. Equally important, the Mississippi Department of Animal Health gave a grant to FURR to expand its activities off-campus.

ALL free-roaming cats trapped for sterilization and re-release must be rabies inoculated. Its importance cannot be underscored enough.

A feral cat pilot project has been approved by the city council for Brackenridge Park (San Antonio, Texas).  TNR is endorsed in the community’s five year strategic plan as one of the methods needed to address pet overpopulation. This project will serve as the model for future TNR city-wide programs.

Veterinarians have an obligation to help reduce the free-ranging and feral cat population by advocating (to their clients) to keep cats indoors, to educate owners about their pets to prevent relinquishment, to facilitate adoptions, and to control reproduction. According to Dr. Margaret Slater, “Veterinarians hold the key in terms of controlling fertility.”

The San Francisco SPCA sterilizes cats for free and pays people who bring in cats to be neutered $5 per animal.

Solving the overpopulation of feral cats and improving their lives depends upon the dedication and commitment of caretakers to provide compassionate care while implementing humane population control. In turn, the caretakers’ success in achieving these goals requires support, services, training, networking and supplemental resources to provide quality feral cat care and acceptable long-term care alternatives. (Feral Cat Caretaker’s Coalition, Los Angeles, CA)

The city of Sacramento (CA) is considering a proposal that would (a) charge a much higher fee for unaltered versus altered animals, (b) require that an owner prominently display the license number of any cat or dog being sold or transferred through an advertisement, (c) prohibit the giving away of animals for free, and (d) mandate that 50% of all license fees collected by animal control be deposited into a spay and neuter fund for animals of low-income families.