With spring just around the corner (and some say actually in full swing), it is unfortunately time for our annual crush of kittens coming to the shelter. Shelters all over the United States are being inundated with baby kittens that were born on the streets because owners, at one point in time, let their cats out of their homes without having the spayed or neutered first.
There are a lot of discussions about whether or not cats should be allowed to roam free and the quality of life they live on the streets, but one thing everyone agrees with is that cats should not be turned loose on the streets without first being surgically altered.
With an estimated 800,000 cats living on the streets in the Chicagoland area, we are in no danger of running out of cats or kittens for people to own. People who let their cats outside must have them spayed or neutered first if we ever hope to get some control over our booming cat population. While cats generally have their kittens in the spring time, hence the name “kitten season”, they can actually have multiple litters a year.
To get a better idea of the monumental task the animal welfare community is up against, let’s look at some numbers. Cats can have 2 litters per year with an average of 3 kittens per litter surviving to maturity. Once mature, at around 6 months of age, these 3 kittens can also start having kittens. In 5 short years, our original two cats can be responsible for over 12,000 kittens being born.
It is true that each group can calculate these numbers differently due to assumptions of litter size and gender of the kittens, but every estimate concludes that 2 unaltered cats can produce an incredible number of kittens in a short period of time. Now imagine it is your job to collect and care for all of these kittens.
So what do we do? Well, from where I sit, I don’t think we have found the solution yet, but I do think we are on the right track. Recently there has been a lot written about trap/neuter/release (TNR) programs, which I believe is imperative to getting a handle on this problem. Along with TNR though, are the traditional methods of trapping cats and bringing them to shelters or animal welfare groups and legislation that protects our cats.
My feeling is that if a community were to truly enact a program that incorporates these three practices, they would be able to resolve their cat overpopulation problems. Too many communities have put all their eggs in one basket, by staunchly standing behind one of these solutions. The truth is that none of these will work by themselves, as history has shown, and that we will only see a dramatic decrease in feral/stray cats, and thus a decrease in kittens born each year, if there is a community wide program that encompasses all three of these methods.
Having said this though, there is one major solution that I am at a loss on how to implement. This is cat owners taking the responsibility to get their cats altered and up to date on their shots before letting them go outside. Even if a cat is only let out for a few hours, this is plenty of time to “create life” and/or spread disease to other cats.
If nothing else comes from this article, I would hope that owners of cats that go outside for any amount of time will arrange to have them altered as soon as possible. There are low cost clinics in the area to help with the cost of the procedure, but regardless of where a person goes, this is imperative to helping save lives.