THE CAT AND KITTENS ABOVE were brought into the clinic because they are all ill with upper respiratory infections, and they are also malnourished. A number of cats were brought in from the same home, nearly all with URIs and malnourished, three female cats with kittens and one pregnant female who weighed only 3 lbs. 13 oz. and a few teenage cats. Earlier another cat had been brought in from this home because she was pregnant and acting ill—all of her kittens were actually deceased inside her uterus and she needed an emergency spay. This cat was being “bred” for her “beautiful Birman kittens” to be sold on craigslist. Rescuers had been in touch with this home from summer 2013, trying to help them get these cats spayed and neutered.
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I was unaware that I was “rescuing cats” when three decades ago I began taking in obvious strays and trying to “save” cats from being surrendered to a shelter, which in those days was about a 90% certainty of death for an adult cat. I simply liked cats, a lot, and in my eyes they were all beautiful, none were expendable, they all deserved a chance, and if I could I should give them a chance by taking them in and trying to find them another home. If another home wasn’t found, I would keep the cat. Surprisingly, I did not end up a hoarder but through a network of others just like me cats of all ages were rescued and vetted and placed in loving permanent homes. In the process we convinced an awful lot of people that cats, spayed and neutered and kept indoors, made great companions, and two were even better. You’ve read many of these stories in my “Rescue Stories” series here on The Creative Cat.
In the process we also made change in our local communities and watched as opportunities and ideas evolved regarding the age for spay and neuter and shelter policies regarding treatment and housing for animals in their care. While the idea that “having a litter before spay” was healthiest for a cat and male cats didn’t need to be neutered because they didn’t have kittens (yes, really), spay and neuter surgeries were found to be safe at younger ages, even before sexual maturity which also reduced the rates of mammary cancer, and many communities began to make this available either at shelters or high volume low-cost spay and neuter clinics. Offsite adoptions brought cats out of the shelter to meet the public and cages began disappearing in favor of cat colony rooms where cats could live in groups and people could mingle in a more natural way, and a network of foster homes could allow kittens to grow up and adult cats relax in a home setting instead of in a shelter which markedly increased their adoption and retention. All of this positive change reduced shelter surrender rates and euthanasia rates from the frightening numbers of the early 70s.
But there were still many cats living on the streets, and, aside from rescuers like me, these cats were considered neither pets nor adoptable but were considered pests, given no humane protection and were often rounded up and killed. In the early 90s the concept of spay and neuter and vaccinations for these cats who lived on the streets without owners who might provide this for them began to take hold as stray and feral cats were trapped and instead of being killed, were given surgery and basic vaccinations and time to recover, then returned to the place they’d been living, often observed and fed by one or more people who were willing to take responsibility for them. In time the “TNR” process evolved and refined as well to where today communities often have an organization devoted to this practice and kittens and friendly cats are often not returned but fostered and rehomed, and ill and injured cats are given veterinary care.
At one time I took in just about one cat per month, sometimes with kittens in tow, but in the late 90s I could slow down the pace as there seemed to be fewer cats, at least in my area. In the mid 00s I slowed down again as my first rescues grew elderly and frail and needed more of my care. Then after losing Cookie and Kelly, the last of my rescues from the early 90s, in 2012, I decided to stop entirely, or nearly so; after so much of my own personal loss and the fatigue of the constant flow of cats over 30 years, I just couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with all that need right then and decided just to support as best I could those who were out there, still trapping and fostering and caring and rehoming.
But partly because I’m not consumed with a house full of rescues I can see that while surrender rates to shelters and euthanasia rates in shelters have dropped dramatically, 30 years after I began taking in cats to get them off the streets and find new homes for them there still seem to be as many cats out there as there ever were, just as many abandoned kittens and mother cats with newborns, unspayed and unneutered cats who’ve apparently never had any health care at all but are friendly enough to have obviously been someone’s pet. Why?
Where possible shelters spay or neuter before a cat is even available for adoption and low-cost surgeries are available in places they never had been from shelter programs to freestanding clinics to mobile vans that visit communities where other possibilities aren’t available. Where are these cats coming from? And why does the same cat so quickly change from being a pet to being a dangerous invasive bit of vermin? Aside from abandonment, there are still people who “breed” their cats and sell or even give away the kittens—you could always find them in the classified ads and now you can find them on craigslist, as in the cats above. Unfortunately for the cats they are no healthier now than they were when I tried to take home kittens as a child, and they are sent off to their homes with usually no veterinary care and not spayed or neutered. It was usually my experience that cats living on the streets can be traced back to these beginnings, and that still seems to be true today.
If 30 years ago I had known these homeless cats would still be seen in the same way, and even worse now with bad science blaming them for reducing bird populations and spreading diseases, I’m sure I would have fallen into despair right then. Human activity is what is spreading the diseases such as toxoplasmosis gondii with contaminated food growing and handling, and it’s also what kills far more birds in a half dozen ways than all the cats in the world could do. It’s humans who still, with affordable opportunities all around and even assistance, neglect or refuse to spay or neuter their cat and let it reproduce, and it’s humans who are the reason there is still a large population of cats living outdoors, and ineffective law enforcement that permits people to abandon cats without penalty.
Would different decisions or activities by rescuers 30 years ago have made a difference in how conditions are today? Would it have been better to spend my time and effort to go after social policies and legislation rather than taking cats into my home? Actually, it was in part all the actions taken by rescuers that have helped bring about the change we’ve experienced, and for all that’s been done in sheltering and adopting pets, in many areas of the country we are in a totally different world than we were 30 years ago and before. But we’re still not catching those who are populating the outdoors with cats because we still haven’t convinced them that a certain level of care is mandated by law and the lack thereof is punishable. Most of cats shown here have been signed over to the rescue and will be spayed and neutered and rehomed instead of returning to their owners, but the pretty Birman-like kitty is going back. At least she is spayed but who’s to say they won’t start up again with another cat? It’s at this point where we need to make the change.
I edited this article after it was published for a few details—only the Birman-looking kitty was returned to the home they came from, the rest were signed over and will be spayed, neutered, fostered and rehomed, and there were actually three mothers with litters, not only two, but though all the other cats were infected with a URI she and her kittens were not.
Animal Sheltering Trends in the U.S.: A historical lesson from—and for—U.S. animal shelter, by Andrew N. Rowan Ph.D., the Humane Society of the United States website.
Toxoplasmosis Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
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Would you like to help with these cats, and others?
The cats pictured in this article are either still at the clinic for treatment—today is a low-cost clinic so whoever can be spayed and neutered is being so right now. The kittens are in a foster home to be given medication and bottle fed in addition to nursing to give them the best chance of survival and help their mom keep up her strength. The cost care and feeding of these cats is largely being borne by the clinic and rescuers, and KMR, or Kitten Milk Replacer, is not cheap, especially for that many kittens. The adult cats will likely end up back in their original home, but the kittens and a few teenagers (feline teenagers, humans can deal with their own teenagers) will be fostered and brought to health, then sent through the Animal Rescue League’s foster program to find an adoptive home. If you’d like to donate to the care and feeding of these cats, HCMT, FF and the rescuers would greatly appreciate it. As we move into kitten season we need all the resources we can get, and these will not be the last cats and kittens to join us in this condition. Donations can be made through cash or gift cards to HCMT and FF, or even to one of the rescuers so she has the money on hand to purchase the goods.
Read more articles in the category Essays
Browse some rescued cats and kittens!
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