As the weather gets warmer, the fate of shelter cats becomes more uncertain. Cats reproduce during the warmer months, and shelters become flooded with kittens during the summer time. This influx of kittens is more than most animal shelters can handle, and many of the youngest animals are euthanized before they are old enough to be adopted. Shelter staff and non-profit animal organizations say there is a way that community members can help break the yearly phenomenon that is often called “kitten season.”
More than 150 cats and kittens have been turned over to the Turlock Animal Shelter so far in the month of June. Officer Glena Jackson of the Turlock Police Department's Animal Control said that most of the kittens were the young offspring of feral cats.
“The number of animals we are dealing with is emotionally and physically exhausting for staff,” Jackson said.
The shelter cannot adopt out feral cats, which are wild-born and have never come into contact with humans. They also can not adopt out kittens younger than eight weeks old. Jackson said that many of the kittens that are brought in were feral litters found on someone's property. Kittens that are too young to eat solid food have to be bottle fed every two hours.
“We don’t' have the staffing to care for that many kittens 24 hours a day,” Jackson said.
As a humane measure, the Turlock Animal Shelter euthanizes many newborn kittens brought in without a mother cat.
“With so many cats coming in we don't have room for them. We don't have the ability to care for them. They would literally be hungry all the time if we didn't put them to sleep. It's the most humane thing to do,” Jackson said.
Even kittens old enough to be adopted can have issues if they were born to stray or feral cats. Jackson said that feline leukemia and feline HIV are two diseases common among cats. The testing for the two diseases is expensive, and signs of the disease often don't show up until kittens are spayed or neutered and sent to their new homes.
“The tests are very expensive. It can be taxing for new families,” Jackson said.
Kitten season is also taxing on staff of the Turlock Animal Shelter. Jackson estimated that 25 percent of the phone calls they field during the summer are regarding found kittens. The phone calls and the constant intake of unwanted kittens impact their ability to care for and adopt out other cats and dogs that would make good pets for new owners.
Brenda Sutherland, founder of HOPE Small Animal Rescue, takes as many cats as she can from the Turlock Animal Shelter into her no-kill rescue. In 2009 she rescued 150 cats and kittens from the Turlock Animal Shelter. She takes bottle fed kittens when possible, but it is not easy to care for them.
“We can only do so many. Formula is expensive and they need a lot of care. It's an uphill battle and then sometimes they die,” Sutherland said.
Although her rescue keeps cats until they find a home, Sutherland does not blame Turlock Animal Shelter for euthanizing kittens and cats. She said that even kittens taken in and bottle fed will often die of diseases.
“The perception the community has is that the Turlock Animal Shelter wants to kill animals. But where are you going to put 150 kittens? The just can't do it,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland and Jackson both said that the only way to break the cycle of unwanted kittens was to spay and neuter adult cats before they have the chance reproduce. Sutherland said that if home owners notice a stray cat on their property they should trap it.
“If they want to keep the cat around and feed it then they need to spay or neuter it. If they don't want to keep it then they should bring it to a shelter to be euthanized. Don't wait until cats have a few litters to decide it's a problem,” Sutherland said.
If the cat already has kittens, Sutherland said that the mom should still be brought in to be spayed. She said the kittens will also have to be trapped eventually. Either at 6 weeks, so they can be spayed and neutered (if the property owner wants to keep them around), or as soon as possible if the property owner doesn't want the kittens around.
“If you don't spay, neuter or euthanize unwanted cats, they will grow up to have their own unwanted kittens. And those kittens will probably end up at a shelter, where they might be euthanized. It’s a cycle that can only be broken by spaying and neutering,” Jackson said.
Alley Cat Guardians in Modesto will spay and neuter trapped cats for a low cost. Their phone number is 567-3570 and they can be found on the Web at alleycatguardians.org. Turlock Animal Control rents traps for a $50 refundable deposit, plus $2 per day. They can be reached at 656-3140. Their Web site features adoptable kittens, and it can be found under the police department's special services at the Turlock city Web site, www.turlock.ca.us.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.