By Jim Tedford, Director of Animal Affairs and Alliances
For most people, the onset of spring and the anticipation of summer bring thoughts of flowers, festivals and outdoor fun. For those who work in the animal sheltering field, however, the season also stirs up thoughts of dread. For them, this is “kitten season,” the time of year when sheltering facilities are flooded with literally thousands of homeless and unwanted felines. Cats are incredibly prolific, often producing two litters in a single year. Combine this fact with indiscriminate breeding and irresponsible pet ownership (do you know where your cats are?) and the result is a very tragic cat overpopulation crisis.
Shelter workers put in long hours and give everything throughout the year. And, in many communities, great strides have been made to improve the quality of animal care and to reduce the overpopulation of companion animals. But, in almost every community across the nation, cats continue to provide the greatest challenges. Overpopulation, especially during warmer months, is a staggering reality. The math is simple — there are too many cats awaiting adoption and not enough homes. On the surface, the problem seems impossible to solve. When we speak in terms of thousands of cats it feels as though we cannot even make a dent in this crisis.
But, one need only look at the success many communities have realized in reducing the number of unwanted puppies to find a ray of hope. Only a few short years ago shelters nationwide were faced with life and death decisions regarding the fate of thousands of puppies each year. While many communities, particularly those in the rural southeastern and southwestern regions of the US, still experience “puppy season,” there are many places where there are actually shortages of puppies in sheltering facilities – a very good problem to have! In those lucky communities not only are puppies snapped up by lucky adopters, but adult shelter dogs who are healthy and behaviorally sound are virtually guaranteed a home as well.
But the struggle is a long way from being over. Now communities must place an SOS call for cats. There are many things each of us can do to elevate the status of cats in our communities and to reduce the number of unwanted cats and kittens coming into area animal shelters. First, spay or neuter your pets! It is an old message, but one that bears repeating time and time again. There is simply no excuse for adding to the overpopulation crisis when a very simple surgical procedure can prevent unwanted births. Secondly, keep your cats safely contained. Free-roaming cats are susceptible to fights, dogs, unkind people, and speeding cars. Outdoor cats also cause property damage and decimate populations of songbirds and other small wildlife.
And, finally, if you decide to enrich your life by adopting a cat, think of a shelter as your only source. June is Adopt-A- Shelter Cat Month, and your local shelters have hundreds of wonderful, adoptable cats and kittens just waiting for a chance to be part of a loving family. Not only will you get a friend for life, but in most shelters, pets are given basic preventative health care and are spayed or neutered prior to adoption.
Cat overpopulation is still very much with us throughout the country. If you have difficulty imagining the thousands of rescue cats and kittens we receive, consider the hopeful eyes of each individual cat and kitten awaiting a home. And think about the caring employees and volunteers who clean their cages, stroke their fur, and reassure them each day.
Jim Tedford serves as PetSafe’s Director of Animal Affairs and Alliances. Working on the front line of animal welfare for over 20 years, Jim has served as CEO for organizations in New York, Louisiana and Tennessee. Prior to joining PetSafe, Jim provided marketing and fundraising services to animal welfare organizations nationwide. Jim holds a degree in animal science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Jim and his wife Ann share their “empty nest” in the Smoky Mountains with adopted dogs Bodie, Sam, and Lila and a formerly homeless macaw, Gipper.