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Don’t let kittens loose

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By Karin Sherbin

Bedford Humane Society

    Most people think of this time of year only as spring, but for people in animal rescue it’s called the kitten season as young unwanted cats overwhelm shelters or else are abandoned to fend for themselves.
    If anyone thinks they are doing the kittens (or even grown cats) a favor by letting them loose instead of surrendering them to a shelter, they need to think again.
    “It’s a terrible, terrible thing to do,” says Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States (which is not affiliated with the Bedford Humane Society).
    The best scenario, Peterson notes, is to avoid unwanted litters by having cats sterilized. However, if there are litters and new homes can’t be found, it’s best to surrender the kittens to a shelter or rescue group.
    Peterson says that 75 percent of kittens born in the wild (i.e., feral) die by reproductive age, which is as young as five months. The stats wouldn’t be any better for abandoned youngsters of domesticated moms, many of whom are dumped at an age when their days are filled with playing with littermates, not learning how to hunt.
    “They don’t just die, they suffer before they finally die,” Peterson notes. “You are absolutely not doing anyone a favor by abandoning kittens. The person who does so is being cruel and irresponsible.”
    Starvation, dehydration and falling victim to predatory animals are usual outcomes for abandoned kittens. Even older cats don’t have much more of a chance of a happy ending. Even if cats are dumped where a colony exists, that doesn’t guarantee acceptance into the group. Unless there is abundant food and shelter, that new cat will be chased away.
    “People think cats can take care of themselves, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Peterson says.
    It’s also against state law to dump animals.
    Some people may not realize it’s wrong to abandon cats because it’s a longstanding practice. But Peterson says people have a reason to change because “we know better now and there are resources to help people,” including municipal shelters, private groups such as the Bedford Humane Society, and rescue groups dedicated to cats.
    Surrendering a cat to a municipal shelter boosts the kitten’s survival odds, though due to overpopulation there is no guarantee of it finding a new home. Even if the youngster isn’t adopted, it’s sheltered and fed before being humanely euthanized.
    In 2010, the Bedford shelter that services both the county and city took in 1,469 cats. Of that total, 832 were owner surrenders, another 624 were strays. The majority of those cats, 1,130, were euthanized. 
    Statewide in 2010, all shelters took in 77,737 cats, and euthanized 40,552 of them.
    The bottom line, Peterson emphasizes, is that there are just too many cats.  The Bedford Humane Society (BHS) estimates there are more than 13,000 feral cats in Bedford County alone.
    While female cats can become pregnant up to three times a year, it’s more usual for them to have litters just in the spring, Peterson says. Litters average three to four kittens. Over the course of seven years, one pregnant cat and her surviving offspring can produce between 100 and 400 cats. That is why cat overpopulation is a huge problem with both domestic and wild cats, despite the latter’s high mortality rate.
    There is a simple solution: spay/neuter all cats. Peterson says that many shelters now commonly spay/neuter kittens as small as two pounds and as young as two months in order to adopt out only cats that have been fixed. She advises owners to sterilize their male or female cats by 5 months to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
    [Sterilizing one’s dog also should be a natural precaution. The Bedford county shelter euthanized 442 dogs in 2010, and the statewide figure for that year is 26,374].

Help available in sterilizing pets
    Every veterinarian’s office offers spay/neuter. If money is an issue, turn to the South Central Spay/Neuter Clinic located in nearby Evington [phone (434) 821-4922 or http://www.endpetoverpopulation.org/]. Cat spaying there is $55 and cat neutering is $40.  For people living closer to Roanoke, there is Angels of Assisi, which charges $55 for a cat spay and $45 for neutering. It also charges only $25 for sterilizing feral cats.
    Further help may be available to Bedford residents courtesy of the Bedford Humane Society (BHS), a nonprofit supported by donations and grants.  The BHS offers subsidies for pet sterilization if people meet income qualifications: $18,000 for singles and $25,740 for married couples. The BHS also operates shuttles from Bedford to the clinic in Evington or Angels of Assisi in Roanoke to make the process more convenient. Contact the BHS at (540) 586-6100 or www.bedfordhumanesociety.petfinder.org.
    The BHS also partners with the Bedford Animal Hospital to offer the Forgotten Feline program, which addresses cat colonies. If you have a colony you may be able to have them sterilized for as low a price as $2 per animal. The program depends on the availability of grant money and donations.  If that fund is dry, the BHS can arrange shuttle service and sterilization for $25.
    Sterilizing one’s cat relieves the owner of the burden of dealing with the kittens. Fewer kittens also would relieve some of the burden on county/city budgets. If there were fewer surrendered cats (and dogs) the shelter operation could be pared back. Public health would benefit too with a decreased chance of rabid animals on the loose. Most of all, the kittens would benefit by not having to suffer before dying. 
    Peterson says that people sterilize their dogs at a greater rate than their cats. “We’ve learned faster with dogs because dogs can bite people, cats usually don’t,” she says. “Cats deserve the same respect and care as dogs. People need to change with the times. There’s a better way now.”