2007-08-08 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

It's so hard to be a homeless cat. Last summer an Ohio State University study found that the outlook for dogs in that state's shelters had improved considerably yet conditions had deteriorated for cats. 16 % fewer dogs were coming into shelters, while cat intake increased 20%. The number of dogs euthanized had gone down 39% but the percent of cats put to sleep rose nearly 14%. These findings are probably reflective of rest of the country. Why are there discrepancies between species? Blame a lot on the biology behind the dreaded kitten season. Blame the rest on society's attitudes toward cats.

Unlike dogs, cat births are seasonalfrom late March to early December on Long Island. Female cats are "polyestrus" They repeatedly go into heat throughout the breeding season. Kittens, as young as 5 months themselves, can start heat cycles that last several days to 2 weeks or more. These cycles can repeat every 2 to 3 weeks throughout the season. Cats can get pregnant again while still nursing the previous litter. In contrast, unspayed dogs come into heat about every 6 months with no connection to the temperature outdoors. The heat cycle is 3 weeks whether or not the dog is bred.

Some insist global warming is lengthening the time feline reproductive hormones flow. Mix Mother Nature's machinations with the millions of feral, stray, and unaltered cats already around, and the result is an endless supply of new kittens flooding shelters. The influx peaks mid to late summer, right about now. Adult cats are upstaged by the babies, and the kittens are in competition for the few available homes available.

Kitten season taxes shelter resources food, money, space. Overcrowding is tough on young immune systems even when given vaccines on intake. The kitten surplus makes it easier for diseases such as eye or upper respiratory infections to spread to the whole cat population. It becomes harder to isolate ill cats; or find fosters for kittens who need bottle feeding. Sometimes tiny orphans are put with nursing mothers, a cat Catch 22. Using surrogates might save these babies but it might also jeopardize the health of Mom or her kittens. The staff is forced to make difficult decisions.

In addition, cats are not offered the same protection under NYS Agriculture & Market law as dogs. Cats are considered "free roaming". Shelter trucks do not pick up cats at large. Again this rule is a double edged sword since a wandering cat could be truly lost or merely lounging in a neighbor's yard. Unlike dogs there is no mandatory hold period for cats. Actually by law municipal shelters do not have to accept any cats. North Hempstead Shelter doesn't. Since it is harder to determine ownership of a cat, some shelters will not take in any "found" or stray cats while other town facilities have made a distinction between previously owned and stray cats. Yes, it's hard to be a homeless cat.

Because of these fuzzy feline policies and the notion that folks aren't as quick to look for their missing cat (which may have disappeared for several days previously and returned) as they might be to search for their dog, very few cats in shelters are recovered by their owners. Cats rarely have on ID. Collars can be dangerous on cats; safety breakaway collars may have fallen off. A cat may have a microchip but shelters are less likely to scan a cat, especially if it is upset and testy.

Cat lovers can work together to alleviate the unnecessary suffering caused by the kitten season glut. All pet cats should be spayed or neutered. Many vets are doing safe altering surgeries on kittens at least 2 months and 2 pounds. Also volunteer at your local shelter socializing kittens and cats or donate needed supplies. Presently Babylon Town Shelter (643- 9270) is requesting donations of canned evaporated milk and light Karo syrup to make kitten formula. Work with feral cat groups to help control the stray population in your neighborhood with TNR (see Beacon "Pets, Pets, Pets"4/26/07). Several of the Towns are considering spay voucher programs. Hopefully that will happen soon. Become a foster kitten parent for your municipal shelter or a private cat rescue. (Online resources: Last Hope, Inc.- www.lasthopeamnimal-rescue.org or the LI Cat Project www.licp.org) .….and finally if at all possible, open your home and adopt shelter cat/kitten, as your only pet or a playmate for your 4-legged pals. The selection will never be better than now.

The feline choices at Town of Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Place Syosset are many this week. Although cat adoptions have been so slow, more cats and kittens keep coming in. There's a large assortment of tiny babies plus quite a few wonderful adults. "Cotton Ball" #661 & "QTip" #662 both males about 7 weeks represent the many kittens. …As for dogs in the kennel, "Dutchess" is a gorgeous 4 yr.German Shepherd mix #676. Her face is Shepherd but her body resembles a small Akita or Malinois. See more photos on the shelter's Petfinder site.

`•Adult Cats: "Wendy"- #375- spayed tabby in the lobby; "Hermione" #550- young calico; "Snuggles" #499- Russian Blue type.

•Dogs: "Daisy" #696 purebred St. Bernard; a female red Malamute #656.

•Adopt "Dora"- foster Beagle, 13 in. and 28 lbs, approx. 6 yrs. Sweet, spayed, quiet. Call 631-665-7807.

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