In a phone call to Katie’s Place recently, the woman at the other end told the volunteer, “What do you mean you are full? I have called all the other shelters and they are full too. I got rid of the remaining kittens from the latest litter my cat had, but no one has room for my last 14-year-old adult. Why the **** are all of you shelters full?”
The irony was lost on her.
This wasn’t a first for the hapless volunteer. Animal rescue is an emotionally-charged field. Katie’s Place is always full with a waiting list and the message machine says so.
Yet people still try to persuade the volunteers to just take one more. Worse than the rage or tears are the threats and dire warnings. People have said they will kill the pet or abandon it if Katie’s Place doesn’t take it.
Both love and apathy are the cause of all this. People want the animal they can’t keep to be well cared for. They love cats, but they don’t realize what an overabundant supply there is until they try to find a new home for one.
Ultimately, cats come from unaltered cats; a survey found the top reason for pet owners not having their pet altered was that they simply had not bothered to do it yet. This apathy means lives will be lost down the road.
The majority of cats surrendered to shelters were obtained from a friend who had kittens to give away. Kittens that are given away are less likely to get altered. They’re the source of more cats.
Across North America, the majority of homeless cats are still euthanized. Often they’re abandoned first and they suffer hunger, loneliness, terror and injuries before they’re impounded and euthanized. This heartbreaking situation galvanizes some people into rescuing as many as they can.
In Maple Ridge, a group of animal lovers got together to save a few cats, and the Katie’s Place shelter came into being. That’s the only difference between the person phoning to give up a cat and the person who answered the phone. When callers are told that there’s no room at the shelter, people have angrily replied that Katie’s Place is not doing its job. It’s not the volunteers’ job, though. What’s needed is more responsible pet ownership, but try telling that to an angry caller.
Many of the volunteers started as a person who phoned around shelters when they found a homeless cat. It’s a long journey from believing that it should be easy to place a beautiful cat to persuading others that they themselves are their pet’s best hope.
Experience has taught the volunteers to problem solve with beleaguered pet owners so a pet can keep his home. It’s driven them to spay and neuter every cat they can. They have often arranged low-cost altering for people who need it. The offspring from one cat will take up half a dozen homes. Katie’s Place cannot take every pet from every caller. Sheltering won’t end a pandemic of animal suffering anyway. Promoting responsible pet ownership is the only solution.
Now, at the start of another kitten season, the volunteers want to get the word out to spay or neuter every pet by six months of age at the latest.
Altering makes cats and dogs better pets. Spaying helps prevent uterine infections and breast cancer. Neutering helps prevent testicular cancer. Altering prevents the agitation of heat cycles. It curbs territorial aggression and the urge to roam. It makes pets more contented homebodies. It will not make a pet fat (overeating and under-exercising do that).
The cost of altering works out lower than the cost of caring for a litter or the cost of vet care when a pet wanders and fights. Children may miss the miracle of birth for now, but they learn a priceless lesson about behaving responsibly.
Lastly, if you’re thinking of adopting a fur-baby, remember that they can live up to 20 years and they’ll depend on you totally for that whole time.
So please help get the word out. Post notices wherever you can: Alter your Pet; don’t litter, and pets are for life.
• Brigitta MacMillan is a volunteer at Katie’s Place, an animal shelter in Maple Ridge.