Rethinking Intake Policies and the Role of Spay/Neuter
By: Linda Chitwood
You may have seen this video floating around the internet recently. In it, a kind gentleman stops his car when a tiny kitten, about 4-5 weeks, toddles into his path on an isolated road. He picks up the mewing creature, before he is swiftly ambushed by twelve more social, loving, and apparently healthy kittens who spring from the waving roadside weeds. Bless him! And then you hear him mourning, “Who could do this?”
Watching that video, you instantly comprehend the suffering that results when municipal shelters close their doors to cats. The cats are simply driven somewhere else and abandoned. Or killed at their home and disposed of.
Most who dump cats feel they have no options. Their local shelter and no-kill rescues aren’t accepting cats due to lack of space and adopters. Some are overwhelmed people who simply want one of their “problems” to be quickly eliminated, and dumping cats or kittens does just that — at least for them. Maybe the person who abandoned these precious kittens thought “At least this way they’ll have a chance.” Odds are, the kittens were dumped by a person who met roadblocks in getting the mother cat fixed, like the availability of low-cost or free spay/neuter services. Sadly, we will always have the inhumane who cruelly dispatch felines when the municipal shelter refuses admission or requires payment to get in the door.
Municipal shelters face these daunting issues every day. When the city cuts the budget. When the cat cages are full. When the staff burns out. When there are no staff. When dog rescues show up to spend thousands to save a single dog or ship out adoptable dogs for retail rescue, but sorry, no, there is no money to help someone get their pet fixed. Even in 2022, public shelters in the South may still jam felines into cages in a dark back hall or storeroom. Once those cages are full, callers and visitors are told: No cats accepted.
But when an elderly lady must leave her home and cats for a nursing home? When a cat arrives at a trailer home with her litter of kittens and the bread-winner spouse says, “No! Get rid of them!” When thirteen kittens spring from the bushes along the roadside?
Where will they go? There are no easy solutions here, but there is a path forward.
Every shelter in the country should be teamed up with veterinarians (skilled in Fixing by Five) to ensure that every cat is fixed on demand, or as close to it as possible. Not weeks or months waiting, where so many fall through the cracks. Internal spay/neuter programs or instant, easy referrals to local low-cost and free spay/neuter providers must be readily available at every shelter.
Quit reacting, and become proactive in preventing a problem that is not easily treated. Spay/neuter does that.
If a shelter knows they cannot place a cat, should it be refused admission, or should a humane euthanasia at the hands of a competent veterinarian be next? A horrifying decision, and if you’ve been involved in canine or feline welfare for even a little while, you’ve already faced this heartbreaker.
Meet with your mayor and the town council. Show them that kitten video. Remind them that abandoned kittens multiply into feral cats — that is, the few survivors that aren’t lost to predation, trauma, illness, and starvation – which will cost exponentially more to manage in only a matter of months. Then, if you still believe you must refuse admission to cats and kittens at public shelters, tell each caller why. Tell them it’s due to a lack of funding, and give them the mayor’s publicly available phone numbers — office, business, and residence.
Next, hold tight to the thrill of no-kill — but spot the underpinnings of a siren song. No-kill is a magnificent sentiment that we all dream will become reality in our lifetimes! However, a decision today to sustain no-kill status by refusing any feline you might have to euthanize is in effect causing killing and suffering. Claiming no-kill status does attract money. After all, who wants their donation used to euthanize homeless cats? But this may also mean healthy, socialized kittens will continue to get dumped on the side of the road.
We’re better than this aren’t we? If you don’t have spay/neuter program at your shelter, tap into the resources from United Spay Alliance, developed after decades of experience, for help in getting a program set up or utilize their nationwide referral directory. Don’t jot it on your To Do List, call or email today. And don’t turn away cats offered for surrender. Because when you do, what they face next is usually worse than death.
Linda Chitwood is the volunteer Director of The Homeless Animals Relief Project, which provides free or low-cost spay/neuter surgery for pets living with the poor in north MS. The recipient of The Annie Lee Roberts Courage & Compassion Award from The Summerlee Foundation, Linda has 25 years experience in addressing pet welfare challenges. She is the author of $5 For a Cat Head: True tales of animal welfare, with hands-on tips for helping animals.