Pettie Award Nomination 2011: How to Reduce Cat Overpopulation – Part Two

Just what is an epidemic of cat overpopulation, how did it start, and what can we do to help?

On the surface, it would appear that these are relatively simple questions with quick and easy answers. For Christine Michaels, volunteer for the Cat Network of South Florida and Riverfront Cats, as well as my choice of donation should Zee & Zoey win the category of “Best Designed Blog” for the Petties 2011 Awards, it turns out this is the most difficult obstacle of all – trying to educate a community where there is little to zero awareness that a problem even exists, let alone a reason to help.

It became popular in the 1800’s for cats to be used in farms and townships to reduce rodent infestations

Let’s set the facts straight right now. Cats have been domesticated for thousands of years – whether it started with the Egyptians as a symbol of worship, or to reduce the rodent population in farms and townships in the 1800’s, to today – where our cats are beloved and pampered members of our household, this creature is the creation of human need and desire. All free-roaming, stray, feral, whatever you want to call them cats, are the descendants of unaltered tame cats somewhere in the ancestry line. One unsterilized cat dumped on the street for whatever human reason, can lead to 5,000 cats in seven generations. Multiply that by an entire community, filled with negligent or ignorant people, and that is how an epidemic is not only born, but sustained.

Currently, in 2011, according to the Humane Society, there are literally millions of cats taken to shelters nationwide, with little to no chance of adoption. Of these millions that make it to shelters, only about 10% of them are found to already be spayed or neutered and about 70% of them will be euthanized due to overcrowding, underfunding, and low adoption rates. Most tragically of all, as Christine well knows, with compassion, common sense, communication, and education, this epidemic could be virtually wiped out if we as people just acted humanely and responsibly from the start.

People abandon cats for many reasons – the economy, behavior problems, unwanted pregnancies, and so on. They dump them, unaltered, in parks, dumpsters, pet stores, alley’s or anywhere that is not home. Not only is this illegal in Florida where Christine and I are from, but it is extremely negligent and cruel. These cats and kittens that had a brief moment of time in a domestic setting are now forced to find a way to survive on the vicious and unfriendly streets with dire consequences. Many a tame cat on the street is incorrectly labeled as feral and “unadoptable” because they are overwhelmed with fear and confusion when confronted by a human.

Bebe and Michael Jackson – two very lucky and special kitties that were rescued off the streets and able to find a forever home due to the efforts of Christine and the Cat Network

There are no acceptable excuses any longer. We do not live in the dark ages and there are countless organizations like the Cat Network that offer low price spaying and neutering programs. Before someone is thinking of dumping a cat, all it takes is one quick phone call to ask for help and advice so that these cats have a chance to not only find a good home, but so that they also cannot contribute to the uncontrollable breeding. If someone can take the time and concerted effort to abandon a cat, surely they can devote equal effort to acting responsibly.

So, what do we, an average community citizen, whether we own cats or not, do to help this situation? According to Christine, first of all, if you come across a stray cat and feel compelled to feed it, by making that decision, you are, in effect, taking responsibility for that cat and you should be aware of what needs to be done. If the cat appears friendly and healthy, it may just be a lost cat. Check with Animal Services, Craig’s List and neighborhood postings to see if anyone reported a missing cat. A friendly cat may also be a recently abandoned cat and  if you want to help, the Cat Network hotline is available and volunteers will walk through how you should handle a stray cat.

Note the clipped top left ear

If the cat appears to be free-roaming – most importantly is to check first to see if that cat has already been spayed or neutered. If the cat’s left ear is missing its tip or has a “v” cut incision in it, it has already been sterilized in what is recognized as a universal symbol by humane organizations to avoid performing unnecessary surgery on a cat that has already been sterilized. This is what is known as Trap-neuter-return (TNR) and the Cat Network is part of this grass roots movement. It is one of the most effective ways to ensure that feral cats are not re-trapped or transported unnecessarily because of unclear markings. This is not an inhumane practice and the cat is under anesthesia at the same time of the spaying and neutering procedure.

If the cat has not been altered – contact a no-kill facility to secure a free trap to bring the cat to the vet for spaying and neutering. While every community is different, here in South Florida through the Cat Network, it is made as easy and affordable as possible so that there is no excuse not to help a cat. According to Christine, “The traps are refundable and there are many low-cost clinics and special prices of $5 per cat if someone is on low income or unemployed. As a member of the Cat Network, if they join our Email Google Groups, there are regular updates of these types of special prices for those on meager incomes.”  So, she continues, “The lack of money can never be an excuse. There are MANY resources in South Florida. We just need help spreading the word!!!  Some county commissioners sponsor spayathons and we’ve had a couple of them a year where the cost was zero!”

This precious and innocent sweetheart, “Ariel,” is one of hundreds of cats available for adoption through the Cat Network

If the cat has already been altered, feed the cat in moderation so that the food does not attract bugs and rodents that carry diseases. If a cat appears to be socialized and friendly, as a member of the Cat Network they will teach you how to foster the cat and find it a home. These fosters generously open their hearts, homes, and pocketbooks to ensure these cats are safely off the streets until they can find a home. They frequently bring the cats to adoption fairs and local pet supermarkets as a way to increase adoptions and The Cat Network also lists each available cat with adoption details on its website.

If free-roaming cats are not adoptable and live on the streets, then they must be given the respect to co-exist within the community in peace and dignity. For Christine and her Riverfront Cats – she does her best to watch over her colony to make sure all of her community cats are spayed and neutered so that an epidemic cannot start.

So, think before you act. If you absolutely cannot care for a cat, at the very least, do your part and have your cat altered before you part ways. Make every effort to reach out to your friends and family to adopt your cat rather than just cruelly dumping it, figuring it is someone else’s problem now. Or, if you witness someone dumping cats, call the police – IT IS ILLEGAL TO ABANDON AN UNWANTED PET and this person should be punished to the full extent of the law. If you see a stray, please look to see if it has already been altered. If not, find a way to make sure this cat does not contribute to the already too large cat population. But, most of all, if you can find it in your heart and home to find room for a cat, please adopt one – you will be saving a life! Love and communication is free – we all just need to help spread the word!

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  1. CATachresis says:

    Wise advice. It shouldn’t be needed, as you say, in this day and age. The unwanted cat (and dog) problem here in the UK is getting bigger, especially as we are living in economically difficult times. I still don’t know how people can dump their pets in the street though? Here the animal rescue services work a bit differently, I think, as the laws are different, but they are still quite overwhelmed. Thanks for your eloquent and heartfelt post xx

    • Deb says:

      Thank you for taking the time to respond on this CATachresis. I have been a cat lover my whole life, yet I had no idea the magnitude of this problem. It really is so sad how simply all of this can easily be fixed. I can assure you I will be a crusader like Christine from now on and spread the word wherever I can. I fear this is one of the those subjects that people would rather not confront – sometimes it’s just easier not to know…. but together, all us cat lovers can make a difference!

  2. Amen to “we do not live in the dark ages”. We live in one of the wealthiest, most educated countries in the world. No more excuses.

    • Deb says:

      Amen indeed Layla… the more I learn, the more fired up I get! It is just ridiculous that we have allowed this problem to get so out of hand. Cats are one of the most dignified creatures on this earth and it is deplorable that we have allowed them such injustice…