The thought of a cute little kitten makes most of us go, “Aw!!!” But even though we all love kittens, most shelter workers at this time of year will say, “Ugh!” The staff at the ARL who cares for the cats are holding their breath and crossing their fingers this year. We have yet to see the usual influx of kittens coming into the shelter – a flood that normally starts in March at the first sign of warmer weather. Called “kitten season,” this time of year begins a very long and unhappy time for shelter workers when all of the kittens born to stray and feral cats are brought in by often well-meaning people who find the cats in their yards or in other outside areas. Until November, the ARL and other open admission shelters will see on average 700-800 cats and kittens come into the shelter each month. Yes, each month. No wonder the staff is dismayed. There just are not enough homes for all of them.
Unspayed females will go into heat as winter shows signs of winding down. The kittens are born about eight weeks later. That often translates into early April, with a few litters frequently arriving in late March. But maybe our winter was a little colder and harsher than usual, delaying the heat and the inevitable kittens.
We’re also hoping that the delay in the arrival of kittens may have something to do with all of the efforts of the ARL and local organizations such as Fairchild Foundation, No-Nonsense Neutering, One-By-One Cat Rescue and The Cats Works. We have been working on raising awareness through education and availability of more low-cost spay and neuter clinics. Could it be possible that we are finally making a dent in the problem? One can only hope.
When people drop off kittens at the ARL or other shelters, they assume that the cats will find homes. Given the large number of kittens coming in, it’s just not possible. Another factor is the age and behavior of the kittens. If the kittens were taken from their mom before they were weaned, most shelters do not have the resources to bottle feed kittens. Sure, the ARL has staff members who foster the kittens but they can only take so many. And the behavior of the kittens is a huge issue. If the kittens had never been exposed to humans, it could take weeks of special handling to get them accustomed to being with humans. Some come around while others will always remain skittish and unadoptable.
The ARL continues to work on solutions to the cat overpopulation but we need the help of the community. What are some things that people can do?
1. We cannot say this enough – spay and neuter your cats, even if they are indoor cats. All it takes is one escape to the outside world and your cat is very likely to find a mate, given the huge number of strays in this area.
2. Become a foster family for homeless cats and kittens.
3. If you find a stray, contact the ARL or any of the organizations listed above to get it spayed or neutered. If you know of a colony of feral cats, volunteer to help trap them and get them spayed and neutered.
4. Talk to your friends about the cat overpopulation problem and enlisted them to spay and neuter and help with your efforts to trap feral cats.
5. Support the ARL by giving them kitten food, kitty litter and monetary donations.
6. Adopt an adult cat. So sadly, the very sweetest nicest cats will sit in shelters unadopted while people come in and take home the kittens. It breaks our hearts.
Maybe one day if we all work together, we will have the cat overpopulation problem resolved. But we do need to work together.