While most people look forward to the warmer months, I have to admit that as soon as March rolls around I have a kind of dread of what is coming. Strawberries and sweet corn and trips to the beach, oh yes! But kitten season is such a sad and traumatic time of year that it more than cancels out the fun parts of summer for me.
Let me give you a small idea of what happens. People who don’t bother to spay or neuter their cats and let them outside contribute to an overwhelming tide of unwanted kittens. And by unwanted, I mean, just about no one intended to let these cats have kittens because they wanted to have kittens. The kittens happen since Mother Nature gives every creature on the planet an overwhelming drive to make more like creatures, and cats are particularly good at making a lot more cats. Without some human interaction, the kittens that result from these unions become feral, or wary of people and may never be adoptable. The further the generation is from the tame cat, the wilder those cats will be. They find being with people just as terrifying as does every other wild creature, and they do what any wild animal does – run, or if cornered, defend themselves.
The scared boy in the picture below was once a pet. When we found him, he had an upper respiratory infection and a broken leg. And none of that had to happen if someone had simply committed to his care. Spayed and neutered cats need up to 30% less calories than in-tact cats to maintain good body weight. This cat ultimately had to be trapped and humanely euthanized, as once able to be put under anesthesia and examined, he was determined by a veterinarian to be beyond “repair” to be able to live a fair and comfortable life outside.
Many of the kittens born outside to a feral, (not used to people) or tame cat, get picked off by predators of some kind- hawks, raccoons, dogs and even people who consider them vermin. Many people who thought that a tiny kitten they adopted was oh, so cute, later decide that they aren’t so fond of the cat he became, and drop the poor fellow in a neighborhood where she can’t find her way home. Far easier is to simply lock them out and ignore their pleas to come back inside until finally, terrified, starving and desperate they wander off. The lucky ones are rescued and find foster care, or if there are not enough homes, are cared for outside by a “feeder” until foster homes and adoption space opens up sometime in January when kitten season has come to a near end. The very unlucky ones die, usually a cruel death.
These female former pets head off to have a litter, since in-tact male cats are not in short supply any more than in-tact females. She can have another litter, averaging 4 kittens each. And in a good year, maybe one after that. And some of those kittens do survive – , by the age of 6 months they have already begun the cycle all over again. One cat can quickly become many, and most live the unfortunate and unhealthy lives of domestic animals forced to fend for themselves.
January through March is three months. Three months to find placement for all of those cats that were sterilized and vaccinated and put back outside during the kitten season months of April through December. The ones we had to put back outside because our only other option was to do nothing, thus contributing to the misery. The ones that survived, that is.
A few lucky un-adoptable cats, (too aggressive, hard-core sprayers, and other behaviors unsuited to living in a house with people) get taken in as barn cats. Hank here, one of mine, has come around since he’s been on the farm. He is affectionate on his own terms, and a sheer terror on the rats and mice in the barn. And while most of us farmers would love to take in more, every one is an obligation to feed, to care for, and to provide veterinary care for. There is a limit.
Caring people find kittens, and sometimes they foster them, or let them grow up till they don’t need their mamma and find homes for them. The really progressive and responsible folks get the kittens spayed or neutered, and vaccinated before adoption. Feral kittens, once past three months are incredibly difficult to fully socialize and are often sterilized, vaccinated and then put back outside, hopefully in a place where someone agrees to shelter them. But not always. People don’t want them, and some insist they go the shelter, where they stand no chance of being adopted, and in most cities are killed within hours of arriving. It’s all horrible, and the shelter staff who are forced to euthanize kittens and cats because they are out of space – more keep arriving every day, sometimes more than 100 in a single day – are traumatized by having to kill healthy companion animals. City shelters must take all that arrive. No kill shelters can refuse to take in cats and dogs when they are full, so while the animals there are safe, most potential incoming animals are not. These animals then go to a shelter that is obligated to take them.
It hurts to know that tiny kittens just like Natalie here (A26858960) who is currently almost ready for adoption, will be killed at shelters due to lack of space, or will succumb to disease or predators. A waste of a new life just begun.
And all of this didn’t have to happen. Every single birth could have been prevented if people simply took advantage of the many opportunities for free or low cost sterilization offered in many cities. And Philly is one of the premier cities for offering free and low cost sterilization for owned and free-roaming cats. Project MEOW exists in part, to guide West Philly residents to those avenues, and to help them navigate the logistics of preparing for and recovering their cats after surgery. To show them how to feed and shelter cats outside when they cannot be indoors due to behavior or lack of space.
It’s easy to learn how to trap. Among my house cats, Simon is always a willing volunteer to test the trap mechanism to make sure it is safe. Going along with experienced trappers and helping can be exciting. Every female trapped and sterilized is an average of a dozen less future kittens. It feels very real, very hands-on, very much as if you are making a difference, because you are. Even in the vast sea of homeless cats, trapping just one will have an effectwhether you see it today or years down the road.
Anyone who says, “Someone ought to help stop this madness,” should know that they have within their power the ability to do just that. Volunteers who trap cats, who foster the friendly ones, who take a mom and kittens, and who help with recovering cats from surgery are all welcome to join our team of cat wranglers. Can’t volunteer? How about feeding and sheltering some of the free-roaming, under socialized cats in your own neighborhood that we are forced to put back outside so they are protected from the elements? Or, if you can’t do that, perhaps contributing to the effort monetarily, by making a tax-free donation on this site would be more your style.
Last winter one of our volunteers encountered this free-roaming friendly cat trying to find food. In order to help this boy, we needed to know we had a safe, available inside foster home in which to place him. It is a direct equation – a once street urchin, now a fostered cat is adoptable, and a life is saved. By the time we had someone sign on board to intake this fellow there was no sign of him. Frustrating, and sad? You bet. But like you, we are only people who live in apartments or houses with limited space, and we can only do what is possible. You can’t take in every one, as much as you want to save them. But a team can within the frame of its members, take in many, many more off the streets and make sure the un-adoptable ones are at least sterilized and vaccinated.
In a perfect world every domestic animal would be wanted and no dogs or cats would wander the streets, lost and alone. No dogs would be tied outside for the majority of their lives, and no cats would be dumped on the street like sacks of unwanted garbage. In a perfect world, all animals would be treated fairly and humanely. In my world, my boys live the life most cats only dream of. My hope is that by all of us working toward the goal of no more unwanted pets, we can at least achieve some of that goal.
Rescued cats from left, Sherman, Beanz and Rudi soak up the heat of a wood stove on a frigid winter day.