According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the domestic cat has been the nation's most popular pet since the mid-1980s. At least one furry feline can be found in almost 35 percent of households and of those approximately 50 percent own two or more cats. Most owners, or to be politically correct, guardians, are happy to share their cats' many positive qualities; they are said to be "affectionate, playful, intelligent, independent, as well as low maintenance animal companions." Clearly, cats are well-loved members of many families. Yet each year millions of these animals are euthanized simply because there are not enough homes for them.
Cats can come into heat as early as four months, but usually closer to six months of age, and can produce up to three litters of kittens in just one year. The mortality rate is especially high for young kitten mothers who deliver their offspring outdoors. In addition to the effects of the elements, cats and kittens allowed to roam freely outside can be hit by cars as well as fall victim to disease, starvation, poisons, attacks by other animals and mistreatment by humans. As a result, their lives are considerably shorter (3-5 years) than cats kept as indoor companions (15-20 years). Cats that do survive and remain unaltered (not spayed or neutered) continue a cyclic pattern of reproduction and, in turn, contribute to the problem of feline over-population.
Animal shelters throughout the U.S. are inundated with cats and kittens. Just take a walk through the halls at Chicago Animal Care and Control and you will see a glimpse of the crisis of cat overpopulation. It is both heart-wrenching and overwhelming to realize the scope of the problem. Cats are literally in every conceivable and usable space with shelter staff working tirelessly to provide the best care they can, given the circumstances.
Similarly, at the Animal Care League (ACL) located in Oak Park, space for cats is also at a premium. Fortunately, this shelter has an active temporary care network in which volunteers foster cats and kittens until space becomes available at the facility. This by no means alleviates the problem of over-population but is one way to ease some of the burden. It also allows ACL the opportunity to accept cats from animal control facilities in surrounding communities. Many of these cats would otherwise have little chance of being placed into an adoptive home.
The long-term solution to cat over-population is a multifaceted one. First and foremost, spaying or neutering of both companion and feral (wild) cats needs to be mandatory. Not only will this help combat overpopulation but it also decreases the likelihood of feline prostate and uterine cancers. Secondly, companion cats need to be kept indoors. A screened-in window or porch is a perfectly sufficient option for owners who want to provide a "taste of the great outdoors" for their family pet. Lastly, all companion cats should be micro-chipped. Now a standard in the pet care industry, micro-chipping is one measure owners can take to increase the odds that their cats will get returned to them.
If you've been contemplating adding a cat or kitten to your family, now is the ideal time and an animal shelter is the ideal place. More than likely, you will find a large selection of adoptable cats as this time of year is the height of "kitten season." And, as always, be a responsible pet owner and have your pets spayed or neutered.