The annual statistics for the number of abandoned cats in the United States is overwhelming: about 3.2 million enter shelters, 1.4 are euthanized, and 40 million are homeless. Nearer to home, the statistics of cats euthanized in just Omaha and Lincoln are just as staggering: About 4,100 cats entered the Nebraska Humane Society (Omaha) in 2016 with 2,900 being euthanized, and about 1,600 cats entered the Capital Humane Society (Lincoln) with close to 500 being euthanized. Given the magnitude of the problem, what can any of us do to make a difference?
I emailed Nebraska’s cat welfare groups to find out how they help cats and what else they think needs to be done. This article serves as a continuation of my “Animal Welfare Takes A Village” series. It won’t have a great deal of focus, but will rather share raw information that will lay the groundwork for future articles.
My utmost thanks to the four cat welfare groups that took the time to respond to my somewhat random questions. They are as follows:
- The Coalition for Pet Protection in Lincoln, seeks to “reduce pet overpopulation and animal abuse in Nebraska by supporting the promotion of basic humane care and placement of animals, responsible pet ownership, prevention of animal cruelty and neglect, and public education.” I spoke to Traci Cameron.
- Feline Friendz in Nebraska is a volunteer cat rescue organization in Omaha with a focus on TNR (trap, neuter, return) to help humanely stabilize feral cat colonies. I spoke to Laurie.
- Joining Forces Saving Lives in Lincoln, was created in 2012 with the goal of bringing animal organizations and the public together to find new ways to save more pets in Lincoln and surrounding communities. In 2017, it received a grant to TNR feral cats in Lincoln. I spoke to Melissa Money-Beecher.
- Platypus Protected Feline Rescue Shelter is an independent shelter in Beatrice developed to provide a haven for abandoned, special needs, and feral cats. I spoke to Susan Mayes.
What are the most common reasons an animal is relinquished to you?
In a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), researchers went into 12 U.S. animal shelters for one year to learn why people relinquish their pets. Three of the ten reasons were also listed by the cat groups I contacted: moving to a place that won’t allow cats, inability to afford a cat, and allergies. The survey didn’t cover people’s reasons for moving, but all four groups noted that the number of cats being relinquished due to owners being elderly or hospitalized continues to rise.
We’ve had cats dumped on people’s porches, found wandering highways, and some just show up on our doorstep (where there is food and water) starving, ill and terrified from being deserted.—Platypus Protected
What questions do pet owners most frequently ask?
This answer can be separated into three parts: resources, cat care, and cat behavior. With regards to resources, pet owners most often want to know:
- Where can I get low-cost spaying/neutering?
- Where can I get free food?
- Where can I get help with vet bills?
With regards to cat care, pet owners often want to know:
- What type of food should I feed a cat?
- How often should I brush my cat?
- What type of toys should I buy?
With regards to cat behavior, pet owners often want to know:
- How do I introduce a cat into a multi-pet household?
- How do I keep a cat from peeing outside the litter box or marking in the house?
- Why does my cat bite when petted?
The Coalition for Pet Protection noted that basic care for a cat is the “the same as you would give a human child.” Some examples include regularly brushing a cat’s hair, cleaning its teeth, and clipping its nails. The Coalition for Pet Protection also stressed the importance of a slow introduction when there are other pets. Pets should be separated at first and then integrated over a period of days or weeks.
How can people help you?
The three greatest needs are volunteers, donations, and educational brochures. The types of volunteers needed depends on the group’s focus.
Both Feline Friendz and Joining Forces Saving Lives are dedicated to Trap-Neuter-Return efforts. Both can therefore use help from trappers and transporters. As TNR groups often find adoptable kittens, they could also use foster homes; kittens that aren’t exposed to humans early in their lives become feral, but if they are caught and handled at a young enough age they can be socialized.
The Coalition for Pet Protection focuses on providing resources and education. As such, it has a wide variety of volunteer needs. It would appreciate support in any of the following areas:
- Advertising and marketing
- Newsletter publication
- Food pantry deliveries
- Designing images for its Cafe Press store
- Grant writing
- Photo archiving
- Recording secretary
- Seamstress for pet bandanas
- Sitting at an event table
Unfortunately, too many people are on fixed incomes, working multiple low-paying part-time jobs to make ends meet, or do not care. Like so many shelters, we are always short-handed and short-funded.—Platypus Protected
What are the best ways people can help homeless cats?
Number one answer? Spay and neuter! This includes the establishment of trap-neuter-release programs. Platypus Protected recognized that the latter might not help current homeless pets but would help with overpopulation down the road.
Joining Forces Saving Lives gave this tip: “Regarding kittens found outside: Socialize them when they are three-weeks-old, so they don’t become feral. When they’re old enough to be separated from their mom, at about eight weeks, find homes for them. And then spay their mom!”
Other ways to help include: support shelters, become a pet foster parent, and help educate.
What kind of support do you provide to cat owners?
Support is most typically provided through phone calls and emails. When feasible, three of the groups try to also provide a care package to new adopters. The Coalition for Pet Protection doesn’t accept animal surrenders but will instead help families to re-home their pets by taking photos, writing promotions, making phone calls, accepting applications, and performing home visits. It’ll also “reach out to the public at our various events and use our website, Facebook, and other resources.”
The Coalition for Pet Protection also assists pet owners with food, veterinary care, and education. In 2015 it helped 250 families and 400 pets by providing 375 bags of free pet food as well as additional supplies. CPP maintains a website where it provides educational articles and links to resources, and it puts out a quarterly newsletter with both informational and entertaining items.
How can our community better help cats?
All four groups agreed that society needs to put a higher value on cats. There are people who will hurt and kill cats because they consider them a nuisance. There are also people who allow their cats to wander outside, despite the risks from other animals and/or the elements, illness, and lack of nutritious food. And, finally, there are people who, while they might keep their cats indoors, don’t provide enrichment. These cats might be safer than their outdoor counterparts, but they risk a life of boredom and loneliness, both of which can lead to behavior problems.
Communities can help homeless cats by implementing Trap Neuter Release programs, whereby cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. Those considered unadoptable will also have one of their ears “tipped” (the ear tip is removed to identify the cat as having already been TNR’d), and then will be returned to their colony, which is cared for by volunteers who provide food, water, and shelter. Animal welfare groups advocate TNR for the management of feral colonies because they consider it the most humane and effective strategy for reducing feral cat populations.
Cat owners can improve the lives of indoor cats by providing enrichment. The Coalition for Pet Protection recommended scratching posts and fun toys. Some of the toys should be catnip-filled or have feathers. But you don’t have to spend money to enrich your cats’ lives. As most people know, cats love empty cardboard boxes; just position a few around your house and your cats will be thrilled. CPP also encouraged, when feasible, the adoption of more than one cat. “Having a friend for your kitty will give it someone to play with, snuggle with, and just be with in general.”
There needs to be an increased awareness of all animals having emotions and thoughts and so forth. People need to understand that domesticated animals are companions, not disposable playthings. Of course, some humans will never change—they prefer to see themselves as kings rather than shepherds. —Platypus Protected
How can our communities become no-kill?
The Best Friends Animal Society, the largest no-kill sanctuary in the country, has the goal of all fifty states reaching no-kill status by 2025. When I asked cat welfare groups how communities can become no-kill, the number one suggestion was low-cost spay/neuter. In Lincoln, both the Capital Humane Society and Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offer this for low-income cat owners. Trap-Neuter-Release was also considered key. In Lincoln, The Cat House and Joining Forces Saving Lives provide this service. In addition, the Capital Humane Society offers a barn cat program.
The Coalition for Pet Protection also highly recommended education, with an emphasis on what is involved in getting and raising an animal companion? “It should be stressed that bringing this animal into their family is a lifetime commitment. If there isn’t the time, energy, or finances to properly keep the animal they want to adopt then perhaps it should be reconsidered. Another important consideration is knowing the breed before bringing it home. Each breed has its own quirks, size, and traits that won’t mesh with all families.”
Other ideas suggested were:
- A hotline for struggling pet owners to prevent cats from being relinquished
- Programs for FELV, FIV, and other at-risk cats
- Several large low-cost and fee-waived adoption promotions held throughout the year that would, through adoption, make room for more animals
- An expanded pet-foster program to allow shelters to take in more animals.
A sizeable percentage of animals do not make it out of shelters due to space, health, or personality. Approximately 45% of them are cats. To decrease the numbers that are euthanized more education must be done with respect to finding solutions to the problems that land the cats in the shelter in the first place. —Coalition for Pet Protection
On a Community Cats podcast from a few years back, a guest expert observed that often a community has many, many, many animal welfare groups. While all these groups have something to offer, if these groups fail to connect with each other they’re doing a disservice to the animals they’re trying to help because no one group can solve all a community’s problems. For example, through this series of “fishing” articles I’ve learned that larger animal shelters often have humane education programs, but smaller shelters and many rescues desperately need educational handouts. Perhaps these groups should partner with each other? At the same time, a lot of Trap-Neuter-Release work is being done by mostly by small groups who partner with bigger shelters.
The guest expert on Community Cats encouraged animal welfare groups to collaborate. Through this series, I’ve certainly become more aware of the amazing services that our various groups provide as well as where they struggle. I plan to continue to building connections with the state’s animal welfare groups and hope my readers will too. With what goal in mind? To improve dialog among Nebraska’s animal welfare groups. Cat welfare takes a village. Let’s be a village.