June is “Adopt-a-Cat month”. Not that people likely to adopt need a reason or a season, but because, in June, shelters are overrun with kittens from unspayed female cats, and often the mother cats themselves. It is at this time that “no-kill shelters” have to close their doors and turn cats away, and when, horribly, “open-door shelters” have to start reducing their population of cats to make room for the new arrivals.
It’s easy to point the finger at the shelter and say they shouldn’t do that, but that’s not where the fault lies and everyone knows it. The shelters have a limit by law and they can’t exceed that, plus staff are already overextended. People bring in new animals and some of the ones who’ve been around the longest have to move aside. I’ll stop dancing around it—some cats will be euthanized to make room for the new arrivals. Cats lose their lives because too many others aren’t responsible enough and decide to toss the burden onto the shelter.
The shelter needs to serve all the animals that come through its door, and must make a decision to put its limited efforts into cats that are most adoptable, usually the younger, healthier, cuter kittens. You can visit the website of any shelter to see the figures and find out how they decide which cats will go. Usually, they are older, they may have chr0nic health problems or chronic attitude problems or both, something that keeps them from going to a forever home with a loving family. Before you condemn the shelter for making that decision, imagine the people at the shelter who have to actually carry out the task. No one works at a shelter just because it’s a job. Most people work there because they love animals. And they are the ones who have to choose the cats and euthanize them.
Imagine if that was you. I had to stop volunteering years ago because I cried every time I showed up. I foster at home, where I’m not overwhelmed by the scope of it.
There is no reason for an unspayed cat unless she is a show cat, and these are few and far between. Responsible breeders take names of interested persons, and each kitten has a home before it’s born.
How can you help to stop this? Just spay every female cat you can. None of this “kids need to witness the miracle of birth” or “it’s good for a cat to have one litter” or “I just can’t catch her in between” or “she likes to have kittens”. The deaths of 2,000 cats in the Pittsburgh area every year directly related to overpopulated shelters makes any of those excuses a very poor choice.
And, in fact, recent studies show it’s very bad for a cat to have a litter, or even reach her first heat because of the risk of breast cancer. In a study done in Philadelphia, 91% of the cats who developed breast cancer had been spayed after age 1, 80% after age 6 months, 2% prior to their first heat.
Spaying is not cheap, but specialty clinics and programs are available in every major city. Around the Pittsburgh area, you can get a cat spayed for under $50. A visit to the website of any shelter will give you a list of low cost spay and neuter programs in your area, one that is up to date for hours and rates. It may not be convenient, but you only have to do it once. And you don’t have to take the risk of waiting until the cat is six months old as we used to, when some cats have already gone into heat once or even twice, possibly even conceived if they’ve been around an unneutered male.
Shelters around Pittsburgh never have puppies because local laws have required people to keep their dogs contained. We can do that for cats, too. Let’s help those who choose to work in shelters spend their time taking care of animals and helping them be adopted, not choosing which ones live and die.