Crush of cats cries for limiting breeding
Crush of cats cries for limiting breeding
The Oregonian, Portland Oregon - September 21, 2006
By Arthur Gregg Sulzberger
Driving home one day last month, Katie Kuzmenko saw two kittens huddled on the side of the road. They obviously had been abandoned, and the 19-year-old Troutdale native couldn't pass them by. She pulled over, put them in her car and took them home.
But she couldn't keep them. Her cat, once suspected of being male, had just given birth for the sixth time in three years. So Kuzmenko packed up the castaways and headed for the Multnomah County Animal Shelter.
The kittens were among the 20 unwanted cats that arrive at the shelter on a typical summer day. It's cat-breeding season, the shelter's most hectic time of year, a time when careless owners end up with multiplying pets . About half of the cats dropped off never are adopted and, usually within three days, are euthanized. Although the shelter accepts pets of all kinds -- an 8-foot boa constrictor currently is the most exotic charge in the Troutdale facility -- in recent years it has been inundated with cats, more than 5,100 last year. In March the shelter, which has a $2.8 million annual budget, opened a brand new $100,000 "cattery" to handle the summer surge. The rest of the year is quieter, averaging fewer than 10 cats a day.
"The number of cats entering this facility has increased 80 percent in the past five years," says Mike Oswald, county animal services director. "We have to come up with a preventative program."
Here's why: One cat can give birth to as many as four kittens up to three times a year, according to the Oregon Humane Society. Each in turn reaches sexual maturity as quickly as four months. Over seven years one particularly amorous cat could be blamed -- statistically at least -- for more than 400,000 felines. Or as Oswald puts it, "Cats are very successful breeders."
That's why neuter and spaying is the mantra of cat management. "We can't build our way out of the crisis, this solution is high-volume, low-cost spaying and neutering," says John Rowton, the shelter's manager.
Next month area animal shelters will send a veterinary van to a health clinic in Southeast, an area with a high number of drop-offs, to spay and neuter cats. Low-income pet owners will be asked for $5 or $10 for surgery and vaccinations, which normally cost about $400. The shelters raised $20,000 for the low-cost program and hope for additional grant support.
In the past five years in Oregon, the number of cats taken to shelters has increased to about 45,000 annually; 50 percent to 60 percent end up euthanized, according to rough estimates by the Humane Society. The Multnomah County shelter sees the largest share of those animals except for the privately run Willamette Humane Society and the Oregon Humane Society.
Cats have quietly become our pet of choice. True, Portland recently was named the most dog-friendly city in America, but we lead big cities in cat ownership with 44 percent of adults owning one, usually two.
The trend trickles down to the shelter, where dogs outnumbered cats as recently as 2003. Dog drop-offs have held steady, but unwanted cats have increased for six straight years . In the shelter, dogs have it better:
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Owners retrieve 40 percent of dogs, just 3 percent of cats.
18 percent of dogs are adopted, most within a week; 22 percent of cats get adopted.
Dog euthanasia dropped from more than 40 percent a decade ago to 26 percent last year, a five-year high.
Cat are twice as likely to be euthanized. Last year 49 percent of cats were euthanized, down from 75 percent a decade ago. Housing a cat costs about $8 a day; euthanizing and cremating a cat costs $10 to $25.
Oswald, the animal services director, says people take more responsibility for dogs. Owners generally keep them leashed or indoors, neutered or spayed, and up to date on vaccinations.
Unlike dogs, cats are usually cheap, if not free, which contributes to the perception that they're not worth the hefty price of veterinary care, Oswald says. The shelter charges $100 for adopted cats -- which come neutered and vaccinated -- in part to create a sense of value, Oswald says.
Most visitors to the shelter, including Kari Hampton and her two girls, Lainie, 5, and Johanna, 7, head straight to the kitten cages. The cattery is an airy cat boardinghouse paid for with private donations. Cages line one wall with mostly young cats clawing for attention from the handful of visitors. Another wall has spacious cells for the cats to roam and play.
Johanna quickly settles on a black tabby with clumsy claws and a fascination for long hair. Lainie falls for the gray-and-white "Sugarplum." After a brief pouting battle on which cat to take home, finally -- after tears -- the black tab wins.
But even as one kitten was adopted, several older charges were dropped off. In July and August: 1,328 cats were taken in, 179 were adopted.
Sara Hertel left a young cat she found living under her Jeep. She put a picture of the cat on Craigslist hoping to find its owner, but the few inquiries didn't pan out.
"We tried to keep it but it wouldn't get along with our dog," Hertel says. "In our neighborhood in Southeast there's tons of cats.
"They look like kittens that people let go."
Arthur Gregg Sulzberger: 503-221-8330; firstname.lastname@example.org