By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
There's no question that Americans love pets. There are more pets than children in America. Most homes have a pet, including about 40 million homes with at least one cat, adding up to over 86 million pet cats, according to the American Pet Products Association. Also, polls suggest that over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family.
Despite all that, estimates are that every minute, approximately four cats are euthanized in U.S. shelters. It's tragic and shameful because the majority of these pets are adoptable.
June is American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Cat month. It's easy enough to visit a local shelter, and even easier to let your mouse sniff out a new pet at Petfinder.com. There's certainly no shortage of adoptable cats.
In fact, feline overpopulation is a serious problem.
There's a "no kill" movement spreading across America, celebrating the notion that far too many pets are needlessly killed in shelters. Of course, I'm on board with that general notion. However, many passionate individuals and organizations espousing this movement are, in my opinion, a tad too fervent -- blaming any shelter which isn't "no kill" for euthanizing animals.
No one I know who works at a shelter wants to euthanize. But if there are, say, five shelters in a community, and three become "no kill," the reality is that the problem only shifts to the remaining two facilities, which then carry the euthanization burden.
There's only one way to solve the problem: Reduce the numbers of pets coming into shelters in the first place.
In many places, this has been achieved for dogs. Some shelters actually have a shortage of what they consider adoptable dogs, so they "import" from other local facilities, other counties, or other states. I don't know of a single shelter complaining about not having enough adoptable cats.
So, how do we impact cat overpopulation? Here are three steps I believe can change the equation:
1. Indoors Only: If "indoors only" really became the mantra for pet cats, spay/neuter compliance would increase. Confining intact cats indoors, and living with their "idiosyncrasies" can be challenging. One added benefit is that life indoors is safer, and as a consequence cats live longer,healthier lives.
2. Bad Kitty: Kidney disease and cancers kill many cats, but bad behavior is likely the No. 1 cause of death. When family members get frustrated and fed up with a cat eliminating outside the litter box, scratching the sofa, or yowling overnight, the human/animal bond fractures, landing the pet in the local animal shelter. Worse, the "offender" simply gets the heave-ho. Either way, the odds of survival aren't great.
More resources are available than ever before to solve behavior issues, but not all cat owners know they exist or can afford such help. Increasingly, shelters offer low cost or free behavior counseling. You can locate a cat behavior consultant at www.iaabc.org or a veterinary behaviorist at www.dacvb.org. Veterinarians with a special interest in animal behavior are at www.avsabonline.org.
Encouraging owners to get qualified help before behavior problems become overwhelming is key.
3. Trap, Neuter, Return is a part of the solution. TNR programs utilize community volunteers (often in conjunction with non-profits who raise dollars for this purpose or animal shelters) who humanely trap feral cats, have them spay/neutered and vaccinated for rabies before releasing back to their colonies.
Some shelters still use their precious resources (shelter space and employee/volunteer time) attempting to socialize and adopt out feral cats. Instead, I endorse TNR. I argue, overall, that most feral cats are more content living in their colonies, letting shelters focus on other, more adoptable cats.
If you're thinking, "What can I do?" Adopt a cat! If you already have a cat or cats, volunteer at your local shelter.
A great resource for all cat owners is called "CATegorical Care: An Owners Guide to America's No. 1 Companion" It's free to download at http://catalystcouncil.org/resources/health_welfare/categorical_care/.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
(c) 2011 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.