This newsletter is the second in a group of rallying cries to you, my favorite super heroes. Now that you and I know your secret identity, The Pet Savers, I have another assignment for you. This one is as large a problem, as difficult, and as heartbreaking as your previous (and still ongoing) assignment, saving pets from abuse and neglect. But I know you, and you are up to the task.
The Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) accepts into its shelter approximately 12,000 cats a year. A very large number of these are family cats that are given up by their owners. Many are unwanted kittens of pet cats. Some have been lost, and need only a refuge until their owners are found. However, only 1-2% of the cats brought into NHS (120-240) are lost cats who are successfully reunited with their owners. About 4,000 of the cats are placed in new homes, and the rest, sadly, are euthanized. By my calculations, this amounts to 7760-7880 cats that are euthanized every year, an average of over 20 cats a day! The cats who are euthanized first are those who are not adoptable or those who are too sick or hurt to be saved—as well it should be. But next are the sneezers, the urine sprayers, the cats with ringworm and intestinal parasites, all treatable conditions, IF resources did not have to be carefully directed to do the most good for the highest number of cats possible. The remaining cats are then given very thorough preventative care. They are spayed or neutered, microchipped, dewormed, tested for feline leukemia and vaccinated against several communicable diseases. They are comfortably housed at NHS or brought to other areas where high numbers of potential adopters can meet them, most notably the adoption centers of the four PetSmart stores in Omaha. The adoption fee pays for a small percentage of the care the cats receive. The NHS foots the rest of the bill, and almost every veterinarian in Omaha offers a free first examination for the new pets.
I thought I would open with statistics, because when I started working on this newsletter, I was under the false impression that the cat overpopulation problem in Omaha is primarily a math problem. And I love math! But read those numbers again. Over 7,000 cats are euthanized at the NHS every year. Some are not adoptable. Some are sick or in pain. However, there are just not enough resources to take care of the rest. So the rest of the cats are humanely euthanized…cats and kittens, long-haired and short-haired, the beauties and the scroungy ones, the feisty ones and the sweet ones, the ones with treatable diseases, and the perfectly healthy ones. What do you suppose that does to the veterinarians, pet nurses, staff and volunteers of the NHS, who are there every day because they love animals as deeply as you and I do? Probably the same thing it did to me when I heard those numbers… and I don’t wish to cause you pain, but I imagine you are reeling a bit too.
On their website, NHS says “our vision is to put ourselves out of business.” I believe we can get to the point where every cat in Omaha has a home or is merely waiting to find one. Then NHS can do what I know its team truly longs to do, SHELTER the adoptable cats until they are in permanent homes and have euthanasia be only the tool it is meant to be—a humane end to suffering for hurting animals.
This is primarily an issue of the hearts of people towards cats, but there is a tiny bit of math involved in the cat overpopulation problem. Simply put, the number of cats and kittens in and around Omaha is greater than the spaces available for them in homes. We can reduce the number of cats born and increase the number of cats adopted, but until these numbers are roughly equal, we will have a surplus. The surplus must be sheltered, fostered, left outdoors or euthanized.
NHS built a huge beautiful shelter in 1992 at the site of their previous building. As the population of cats who needed to be sheltered grew, they bought the strip mall next door to the shelter, and they are beginning to house cats there as well. Also, there is a huge volunteer foster network in Omaha.
We have many colonies of first-generation feral cats (illegally abandoned cats) and second-generation feral cats (the offspring of the abandoned cats) in Omaha. Many of these would not be tame enough to be placed in homes, even if enough homes were available for them. And, as I mentioned, thousands of cats are euthanized each year.
As far as solving the equation: Cats in Omaha = Cats in Homes, I know that you are already working toward making that a reality. Your pets stay indoors and are sterilized. You are the ones adopting the cats and kittens from NHS, other rescue groups, and even right off the streets. When you adopt a kitten or cat, you realize it is a lifelong commitment and have never taken that charge lightly.
My parents are my greatest heroes. In every facet of life, Mom and Dad are to be emulated, but since this is a kitty newsletter, I will stay on track and say only that if every person in Omaha did exactly what my parents have done, I would not have this newsletter to write. They have had two cats (both at my teary pleading—I promised no more!) The first one, Winston, was a scraggly, angry, tiny little abandoned calico with attachment issues. She was malnourished and flea-ridden, with intestinal parasites and ringworm. I remember when I was eight years old Mom was constantly taking Winston to the vet. Mom made sure all of Winston’s medical issues were resolved before Winston even got to normal kitten preventative care. She had all of her necessary exams and vaccines and was spayed at a young age. Thanks to Mom’s diligent care, Winston became a gorgeous, sleek, healthy cat. She was always an indoor cat and always had routine check-ups. She became high-maintenance again when she developed chronic kidney failure as an older cat. Again, Mom never missed a check-up or treatment. And Dad has put up with both cats for decades despite his severe allergies. They have housed, fed, provided love and medical care for Winston for TWENTY YEARS and the other high-maintenance cat, Oliver, for seventeen years now and counting. So you can see how I came by my love for animals honestly. And you must have had some amazing role models as well, because from what I have observed, you are wonderful pet owners and dedicated animal advocates.
It’s your friends we need to talk to. Don’t get me wrong. Your friends are great. And I know that they are as much animal lovers as you and I. Maybe they just have not heard how big the problem is, or how simple (simple, but not necessarily easy) the solution is. So I need you, as a friend, to talk to them.
The key to solving cat overpopulation in Omaha, I believe, lies in changing the attitudes of the people of our great city. Not even changing their attitudes from bad to good, more from indifferent (“huh, I never thought of that…”) to engaged (“ok, that’s doable.”) Most, I suspect, will jump right on board. However, I will tell you the few objections that I have heard to having cats spayed and neutered, and what I believe are reasonable solutions.
The Cat Spay/Neuter Connection is an incredible organization in Omaha that is dedicated to assisting owners of unsterilized cats. Their goal is to “seek aggressively the prevention of births of unwanted kittens in the Omaha metro area through public education and low-cost sterilization of family cats.” They will ask how much you can afford toward the sterilization of your cat. They will then give you a voucher for the difference and you can take that to one of six wonderful vets in Omaha who will perform the surgery for you at the reduced cost.
While your pet is in the hospital for the day, you can calculate how many lives you have saved. Estimate how many kittens would have been born had you not had your cat sterilized. As a very conservative estimate, figure that one cat will have four kittens every spring. The next spring, those kittens will have kittens and so will the original cat… and so on. In reality, cats can have much larger litters than four, and much more often than once a year. Male cats will procreate as many times as they can find females with whom to mate. Take the multiplication exercise out however many generations you would like. (The more generations you calculate, the more you will realize how huge an impact your decision has made.) This astronomical number of cats can now be placed in homes because they are not competing with the cute little fuzzy offspring of your pet. Now you too are a Pet Saver.
“I want to buy a cat from a breeder so I can have this particular color/pattern/breed/temperament.”
I have seen every gorgeous color and pattern and breed of cat come through NHS, and if you are willing to wait, we will find your exact cat or kitten. As far as temperament, you can either adopt an adult cat, whose personality is known, or a kitten, whose personality you can help shape. Either way, you will end up with a wonderful pet, all the while saving cats in Omaha, one cat at a time.
“I want my children to see kittens being born/newborn kittens.”
Become involved in a foster program, either through NHS or another great rescue organization. You may be able to see kittens born, help socialize kittens, or even bottle-feed a litter of kittens. You will accomplish the same noble goal of teaching your children about life, while helping to solve, instead of contributing to, the overpopulation problem.
“We need farm cats.”
Feline Friendz is a wonderful organization in Omaha that works with feral cats. They humanely trap feral cats, have them neutered by participating veterinary teams, and release them back to their colony–a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program. If they are living where they cannot be cared for or are not allowed, they are relocated, often to farms if requested. There are your farm cats, and you have also done your part in saving the cats of Omaha.
So there are answers for your friends based on the most common objections to spaying and neutering that I hear. As you know, sterilized pets are healthier… cats without reproductive organs cannot get reproductive cancers or infections. And they make better companions. I do not know anyone who enjoys hanging out with a yowly cat in heat, or worse, a tom who writes “Mine! Mine! Mine!” in urine on everything he sees.
I believe the most difficult aspect of our pet saving mission is this. I hesitate to bring it up, because I do not have a mathematical solution or a pat answer. I believe that cats… not by you and me… and maybe not even by most of Omaha… but cats… in large enough numbers to get us in the bind we are in today… are not valued as highly as dogs are. They seem self-sufficient, as if maybe they don’t need us as much as dogs do. They can come off as a little aloof, which can hurt our feelings. And they, by no fault of their own, induce allergy attacks more dramatically than any other animal I have ever known. And that, I have noticed, has caused more than a few people to hold grudges against the entire feline species.
I am not asking you to adopt a cat if you do not have one or if your house is already full. I am not asking you to become best friends with one. And I am not asking you to give one a big furry hug if it will send you into a horrendous life-threatening allergy attack.
I am asking you as Pet Savers to work together with the entire community to get this equation balanced. Let’s get the word out that there are more cats in Omaha than there are homes for them. And let’s all work together to fix it.
In my very rough estimation, that can be done in a matter of a few cat generations. And that seems to be just a few years away. Let’s meet back here then and see how far we’ve come.
Once we get there, we will need only to hold to the value that cats are worth caring about, and stick with the programs that are working, and we will hopefully never again find ourselves in the very sad situation we are in today.
If the enormity of this problem bothers you, this would be a good time to go hug your cat (unless you are allergic). Now, Pet Savers, you are ready to continue saving the world… and working together to solve the cat overpopulation problem in Omaha is a great next step.
Incredible Organizations Worth Your Time, Talent and Financial Investment and Great Resources for You and Your Friends:
Nebraska Humane Society
The Cat Spay/Neuter Connection