A sign outside the Arizona Humane Society says the cat you are about to surrender will most likely be put to death. Yet still the public swamps the Humane Society with more than 700 cats a week, nearly twice as many as their two shelters can handle. The intake numbers are equally as startling at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Even though cats are now America's No. 1 pet, they perish at an alarming rate in Maricopa County.
Maddie's Fund, a private non-profit charity founded more than 10 years ago, steers money to shelters and rescue groups so they will eventually convert to no-kill status. With the surrender rate of cats in Maricopa County, that laudable goal is simply impossible. We have a significant cat overpopulation crisis caused largely by negligent owners who abandon unaltered cats. Cats can reproduce as early as four months of age. Without human contact, they turn feral.
Stray cats can become a nuisance when they forage for food. Females wail when in heat. They cause car accidents and are themselves victims. Stray cats are sometimes tortured by demented teenagers. The public has little recourse either. No laws exist in Arizona about free-roaming cats. Animal control, already stripped bare by budget cuts, responds only to stray dogs. Cats make it to shelters because of kind strangers or fed-up neighbors. The overpopulation problem is exacerbated when people trap feral cats and abandon them in the desert. They balk at paying the hefty turn-in fee for trapped cats at shelters. The cat may be off their property but now it's someone else's problem, continuing to reproduce.
To spur adoptions, both the Humane Society and the county lowered the adoption fees on adult cats to a mere $25, which includes the spay/neuter surgery and a vaccination. Yet there are few takers. Instead, owners continue to strand cats at shelters with the mistaken belief they will find new homes. Reasons include moving, birth of a child, death of the owner, job loss and divorce.
To help stop the destruction of so many beautiful and perfectly healthy cats, the public must pitch in. A shelter should be the last resort, not the first. Animal shelters are packed with unwanted animals. Leaving your cat there will most likely doom it to death. Spay or neuter your cat. There are ample free and low-cost programs available. Call any shelter for information about options. Do not take in a kitten or a cat unless you are prepared for a lifetime commitment. Owning a cat is a responsibility. No shelter can achieve the no-kill status until pets are part of the family.
Debra J. White is an animal shelter volunteer.