Interview with Pet Author Deborah Barnes

About a year ago, I posted a request on BlogPaws for contributions to a spay/neuter series I hoped to run at LAA Pet Talk. One of the respondents was Deborah Barnes. We entered into a correspondence that still lasts today. Not only did Deb allow me to reprint several of her articles, but she sent me copies of two of her books to review, and helped me become a member of The Cat Writers Association. When she began working on a third book, just released this November, she invited fans to submit stories of their cats, and I had the privilege of two of mine being accepted. It’s an honor to know Deb, who is an advocate for cats and especially for spay/neuter, and to introduce her to you.

Deb resides in South Florida with her fiancé, Dan, and feline family of seven. She is the author of three cat books and hosts the award-winning cat-related blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. She’s also the Vice President of the Cat Writers’ Association and was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina. In addition, she is the secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane of Miami, Florida, and her freelance work has appeared in various publications including the popular Cat Fancy magazine.

ALLISON: How did adolescence change you?

DEB: I was extremely shy as an adolescent. I wasn’t very athletic, I wore thick glasses, and I was always the shortest girl in my class. This made me an easy target and I was bullied all the time. I was always picked last for any group activity, and I was even told to my face I wasn’t pretty. I took it to heart and it hurt me deeply. My cats and reading became my refuge and, it wasn’t until I went to college and had a fresh start, that I began to realize the words of bullies were only words. They weren’t truth and I blossomed. I discovered not only did I like myself, but that I had talent, worth, and value. I believe these life lessons made me stronger, more fair-minded, and empathic. I also learned to venture outside of my comfort zone and know that with enough faith, effort, and perseverance, anything is possible if you really want it.

ALLISON: Why the leopard print clothes?

DEB: Many people think the character, Peg Bundy, of the television show, Married with Children started the leopard print craze, but truth be told, it was me! I’ve been fascinated with big cats my whole life – especially leopards and cheetahs – and wore leopard prints clothes any time I could find them. But back then, even though I was a huge cat lover, I had never heard of the Bengal breed. Once I caught wind of this cat, which is in essence, a leopard shrunk to housecat size, I knew I had to have one. I got my Bengal, Zoey, in 2008 and she helped to inspire my first book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and my blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. I’m featured on the blog and book in leopard clothes, and it just took off from there. A brand was born and I’m officially known as the leopard lady in the cat world!

ALLISON: What have been your biggest challenges with pets? Your greatest rewards?

DEB: The biggest challenge is having to say goodbye, especially those times that seem unbearably cruel and unfair. I had a beautiful Golden Retriever, Bailey, and I adored her to the moon and back. She was less than two years old and died of cancer. I also lost my beloved cat, Harley, when she unexpectedly died at 10 years of age after experiencing a severe seizure. It’s those moments that really challenge the heart and soul. But I’ve taken those instances and tried to find the good in it. That’s how Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond was born. I wanted to help others with the grieving process and offer comfort and hope to them. As far as the greatest rewards, that’s simple, each and every day I’m blessed with another day to share with my pets is a great day. They never fail to make me smile or feel appreciated.

ALLISON: What’s the perfect number of cats for a family to have?

DEB: There really is no correct answer for this. I currently have seven cats and have always had more than one cat. While not all cats become best friends, more times than not, they at least can get along (with a proper feline-enriched environment). I think companionship is important for them. My cats snuggle together, play together, and groom together. They’re never lonely that way. But how many cats a family should have depends on the size of your living quarters, your financial ability to take care of the cats, and how much time you can devote to them. I think 2 to 3 cats in most households would be ideal.

ALLISON: How long have you been blogging? What inspires your ideas? How do you find time?

DEB: I started blogging in 2010 and quite honestly didn’t even know what a blog was back then. I had attended a writing conference and it was recommended I start a blog about my cats to compliment my first book , The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Like the show Seinfeld, I’m inspired by the everyday moments of life and my cats provide endless material for me – a bug walking into the living room, for example, can become an entertaining post. As far as finding the time, when I first started blogging it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it is today. I was able to maintain a schedule of posting several times a week but now, with a full-time day job as well as working on writing my third book, it’s a struggle to find the time to post once a week. On week days, I get up at 5:30 a.m. so I have a couple of hours before I leave for work to concentrate on my writing. On weekends, I typically get up around 7:00 a.m. and I never allow myself to sleep in. That way I’m certain to have as much time as possible to work on my writing, as well as to do my household chores and errands. As far as designing the blog – I knew from the moment I was going to start a blog what my vision was going to be. I wanted the blog to be completely different to any of the cat blogs I had seen elsewhere, and I wanted it to mimic the concept of Zee & Zoey’s book – meaning, I wanted the reader to enjoy the ordinary act of reading, but in an extraordinarily beautiful environment.

ALLISON: What have you learned from writing?

DEB: I’m not much of a talker. I’ve always preferred writing as a means to communicate and I’ve learned that the written word can be a powerful tool to inspire and move people. I’ve been told that I have the unique gift of being able to express concerns, sentiments, and ideas that others have, but that they didn’t know how to convey. I’m not afraid to speak honestly and I like to question the world we live in. By doing this, I’m able to inspire provocative conversation. That way, I able to educate people and to move them to action for the better good of cat care, especially when it comes to spay/neuter.

ALLISON: You’ve won several awards from BlogPaws and Cat Writers. What does that feel like?

DEB: Being recognized by your peers is extremely humbling and emotionally rewarding. When I was awarded the 2013 Cat Writer of the Year Award by Friskies Purina at the Cat Writers’ Association annual writing contest, it was completely surreal and the whole thing was a blur to me. I was so new to it all back then and was in awe of the talent around me. To be recognized for my own talent brought me to tears, and even to this day, I often wonder how I’ve gotten this far. When I was younger, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be an author, let alone an award-winning one. But regardless of winning or losing, being a member of such esteemed groups as BlogPaws and Cat Writers drives me to be a better writer.

ALLISON: What does life currently hold for you?

DEB:  I just finished my third book, Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Humans Who Love Them. It was released on November 15th and I’m so excited about it!

Front row – Left to Right: Jazmine, Peanut, Rolz, Mia. In Deb’s lap, Zoey. To Deb’s far left, Zee, and to her far right, Kizmet.
Front row – Left to Right: Jazmine, Peanut, Rolz, Mia. In Deb’s lap, Zoey. To Deb’s far left, Zee, and to her far right, Kizmet.

Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

Making Biscuits by Deborah Barnes

makingbiscuitsShow of hands please. Who thinks cats are aloof and lazy? If you answered yes, you’ve fallen for the stereotype that I held before a cat named Lucy came into my life. If you answered no, you’ve learned like me that cats are full of affection and fun. The latter is the idea behind Makin’ Biscuits, a collection of insights and anecdotes by Deborah Barnes about “weird cat habits and the even weirder habits of the humans who love them”.

My angel cat, Lucy, was very particular when it came to beverages. She liked milk, but there were rules. It couldn’t be straight from the jug—it could only be room temperature milk from a bowl with cereal in it. But she’d also only drink it after the cereal was completely gone!–My submission for the chapter, “Are You Going to Eat That?”

Makin’ Biscuits is a 36-chapter tribute to cats. Barnes starts each chapter with an overview wherein she chats about the theme and then hones in on a few personal experiences. For example, in the chapter entitled Cats in Toyland, Barnes admits that there probably isn’t a toy she hasn’t brought for her cats. One however is particularly unusual, that of a string bean. Her cat Jazmine likes to watch Barnes cut fresh ones and, if Barnes ever slows down, Jazmine will grab a stem and run off with it. Barnes dedicates the middle of each chapter to multiple anecdotes from cat owners from across the North America. Some of those cat owners are famous such as Vanna White, heavily involved in advocacy such as founders of various rescues, or simply average pet owners like me. Barnes wraps up each chapter with points to ponder. For example, in the chapter mentioned above, Barnes stresses how important toys and play are to the health and well-being of cats. She recommends cat owners schedule daily time to play with their cat(s), names a few popular toys, and warns against strings. With her book, Barnes wanted to explore the feline mindset, but also to make a difference in cat overpopulation by showing readers what great companions can be. It’d be hard to read this delightful book and still feel cats are aloof and lazy.

After my beloved cat, Lucy, died I made a vow not to leave my other cats, Cinder and Rainy, home alone if I didn’t have to. Loving them so much, I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. I know how fleeting time can be with our precious pets. So now when my husband Andy and I go to visit Andy’s parents every week (they live six blocks away), rather than keep Cinder and Rainy at home, we crate them up and bring them too! They’re put on flexi-leashes to give them unrestricted freedom, and they like being included in the excursions. Andy and I also bring them for special holiday visits and, if it’s Christmas, Cinder and Rainy will get gifts too!–My submission for the chapter, “Home for the Holidays”

Makin’ Biscuits is also a 250-page labor of love. Each chapter has a whimsical title and more than one illustrative photo. The commentary by Barnes is supported by over twenty-five sources of research. Then there’s the endless submissions that Barnes had to comb through. To obtain these submissions, Barnes put out an open call on her blog and on social media sites for cat lovers. In the end, received so many stories that to include all of them would have required her to write the next “War and Peace”. Add to all this the fact that Barnes, like many authors, had to juggle a work and family life to compile Making Biscuits. For her though, the labor of love will be worth it if it encourages more people to join help bring about the dream of ending cat overpopulation. Right now, there are over 40 million homeless cats in the United States alone. That’s why we need more and more cat owners to speak up and educate the world about how amazing cats are.

When I first heard that two of my stories had been accepted to Makin’ Biscuits, I immediately ordered five signed copies. Since reading my own personal copy, I’ve added more friends to my life who would enjoy Making Biscuits. My advice to you then is to simply plan on buying several copies to share.

Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey & Purr Prints of the Heart by Deborah Barnes

Once upon a time there was an animal lover who opened her home up to cats. For anyone who reads pet books, there’s nothing new about that plot. So why should you check out the two offerings by Deb Barnes? From the gorgeous and charming artwork to the funny and conversational style, The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey and Purr Prints of the Hearts will certainly warm your heart. If pretty looks and engaging words aren’t enough to woo you, there’s also the fact that Barnes is an excellent storyteller. She deftly draws you into her world and makes you intensely care about what happens next to her cat clan.

In the prologue, Barnes explains the subtitle of A Journey Into the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Most of us like to imagine our lives better than they are. For one lovable male Maine Coon cat named Zee and one wild female leopard inspired Bengal named Zoey, however, Barnes believes that the ordinary is itself a gateway to unlimited adventure. This is true partly because of how cats are, but also because of the way Barnes choose to view her life with them. “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And then Zee….” quips Barnes before proceeding to dedicate a chapter to her search for the perfect Maine Coon, a cat intended as a surprise for her sweetheart. She shares of how her criteria changed due to how few Maine Coons were available within driving distance and then how the deadline got altered thanks to an impending hurricane and finally about the arrival of “the chosen Almighty One”. The tale of Zoey’s arrival contains a similar tonal mix of amused and dramatic. “The possibility of getting a Bengal had already been in the back of my mind for quite some time, what with my ever-present obsession and love affair with anything leopard related,” note Barnes, before proceeding to describe Bengals and how the stunning Zoey was a creature to be reckoned with.

But The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey isn’t simply a story of how boxes can become forts and gardens can become jungles for two cats in love. It’s also about the consequences of felines blossoming into adulthood before being spayed/neutered. As is her personality, Barnes embraced the responsibility of being a cat parent while also finding magic in a home overrun by a litter of kittens. Even when the reality settled in of only one adoptive home being found, she issued this declaration: “We brought these cats into our home, so as such we have decided that the love and companionship they bring us far outweigh the scratches and damages incurred in our home.” At times, Barnes has extended apologies for the fact she realized too late how quickly cats can have kittens, but I admire how she allowed her life to be positively changed by that one misjudgment. Not only has she weaved a fabulous adventure about Zee and Zoey, but she’s also become an avid cat advocate.

One of the biggest challenges in reviewing a book is encapsulating the essence of a book into a couple of paragraphs. For example, in the prologue, Barnes writes that The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey wouldn’t actually exist if not for a beloved cat named Kit. Yet up to this point I hadn’t referred to Kit. For that matter, I also neglected to mention the numerous other strays including dogs that found their home with Barnes. The anecdotes that Barnes shares of them are just as engaging as those of her lovebirds, but obviously there’s only so many highlights I can feature. You’ll have to discover who all of the rest of Barnes’ family are by reading The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

But I do need to introduce you to Jazz, as he’s the star of Purr Prints of the Heart. Before Zee became the patriarch of the family, Jazz had been the residing male. Barnes had been watching a pet show and fell in love with the “Ragdoll” breed. She immediately began to do research and found Jazz through the classifieds. Discovering that Jazz came from a hoarding situation, Barnes immediately decided to adopt him. As Jazz progressed from being a kitten to an adult, he developed the quirky habit of playing fetch with wads of paper rolled up into a ball. He also liked tennis and lizards. As Jazz matured, he grew to earn the title: “Mr. Jazzy Grumpy Old Man Leave Me Alone I Don’t Want to Be Bothered.” These details and a few others are all ones that Barnes provides in The Chronicles of Zee and Zoey.

Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook Page
Jazz, Photo from Purr Prints of the Heart Facebook

In Purr Prints of the Heart, Jazz takes center stage as the narrator of his own tale from start to finish. Jazz shares his dismay of being labeled sick by his original owner. After all, his mom had raised him to believe that he was the most handsome kitten alive and somebody would want him one day because he was special. And when Deb Barnes walked into Jazz’s life, this turned out to be true. Yet at first Jazz wasn’t so sure. Crates, car rides, and quarantines all made him question if his new circumstances were better ones. But then he met Kit, who helped him acclimate. Just as Jazz falls in love with his new home, so I fell in love with Jazz who shared adventures of hurricanes, house renovations, new cat arrivals, change of jobs by the owners, and even saying goodbye to friends. By now, Jazz has begun to understand what Rainbow Bridge means, and to realize that this will soon be his future too. Although I like to avoid those stories which end with the inevitable death of a pet, Purr Prints of the Heart is unique in its approach. By having Jazz narrate his view of sickness and dying, Barnes avoids being sentimental and instead helps all of us owners see how growing old might feel to our beloved pets.

Deb Barnes and I connected about a year ago when I put out a call for articles about pet overpopulation. Since then, we’ve stayed in touch occasionally through email. As someone whose life’s also been forever changed by feline companions, I relate to many of the cat escapades that she shares in her books and on her blog. I also appreciate her dedication to making a difference in the lives of cats. She’s an inspiration to me and I feel honored to have signed copies of her books.

Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.

August 28: Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day was founded by a fellow pet blogger, Deborah Barnes. The author of Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles, Deb created this special day in tribute to her Ragdoll cat, Mr. Jazz, whom she said goodbye to on August 28, 2013. Upon receiving overwhelming support for her book about his death (Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond), Deb decided to create the day in his honor as a way for others to share memories of their own departed pets.

Rainbow Bridge carries on an ancient tradition of memorializing our beloved pets with the same care and consideration as we do our departed human family.–Deborah Barnes

This year, I wish to honor Jazzy and Jonesy. Jazzy belonged to my in-laws. He was a black toy poodle, and he died last year at the age of 15. My in-laws have only owned toy poodles, and they only have one at a time. Jazzy was their third. After he died, they went the longest they’ve ever gone without a dog since getting their first toy poodle in 1975. But a couple of months ago they got their fourth toy poodle – an eight-week-old cream-colored puppy that they named Toby.

Jonesy belonged to my family, and especially my sister. Jonesy was one of two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that needed a home. The dogs came to my family at the age of four. They were mellow and amicable dogs. Everyone who knew them considered them sweet. This past year, Jonesy welcomed my parents’ new puppy, Lexie, and even played with her, despite being 13 years older than her. On August 17, while my parents were playing a game of Scrabble, they noticed that Jonesy was unusually still. When they checked on him, they discovered that he’d passed away quietly. You can read my dad’s tribute at: Jonesy

For those who have ever lost a pet, Deb is hosting a Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day blog hop. The post will go live at 12:00 a.m, EST, on August 28 with the code and linking information available at that time. She has also created a Facebook event page where you may want to post a picture, upload a video, or share a favorite memory. This is the event link: http://bit.ly/2h0NXUU.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to remember the other pets I have lost but not forgotten.

And as with every year, there is no pressure to participate and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I know it’s a sad day. But it’s also a beautiful day. The outpouring of love I see is so touching, as people share in the love they had (and still have) for their pet(s). It’s a time when we can all take a moment to collectively come together and comfort one.–Deborah Barnes

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part Three – The Fountain of Youth and a Reduction of Facial Wrinkles Discovered by People Who Have Cats That are Spayed or Neutered!

Reprinted with permission from Deborah Barnes, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright February 25, 2013.

Admit it–the headline got your attention. We live in a sound bite world and the more outrageous the headline, the better. Who needs confirmed facts if a story sells better without them? And hey, a cat CAN improve a person’s well-being. It has been proven that people who have cats in their lives can have lower stress, depression, and anxiety levels – all factors that can cause wrinkles, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that a cat who is happy and healthy from the benefits of spay/neuter would make a person more youthful just by being around them? But a dangerous trend between theoretical probability and realistic reporting as to what cats actually are, or are not capable of doing, continues in our society making it an uphill battle to educate people about theory versus reality when it comes to the subjects of cat conception, cat overpopulation, and the effectiveness of spay/neuter.

Case in point–in math, one plus one equals two and the subject is closed for debate. When it comes to one fertile female cat who mates with one un-neutered male cat and they have kittens, however, the collective number of offspring they could be responsible for in a seven year time frame ranges anywhere from 5000 to 420,000 kittens. Quite a discrepancy to say the least. And while it might appear on the surface that the more profound number of 420,000 kittens allows a better chance of bringing attention to a serious subject, I have to respectfully disagree.

CAT-NUMBERS-BOARD

Do a quick Google search asking the question, “How many kittens could a female cat have in her lifetime?” The number one site that pops up is wiki.anwers.com and it confirms the 420,000 figure. Why is this so bad? Number one – because people tend to trust what they read, and number two, because these kinds of erroneous numbers lead people to believe that cat overpopulation is too overwhelming to control and that spay/neuter efforts don’t work, it inspires justification of tragic euthanizations, overstated reports on cats killing birds, stereotypes about cat-crazy ladies with homes overrun with cats, and general cat-hating mayhem. Public policy for reform and change cannot possibly occur in a national mainstream effort if we don’t arm ourselves with facts on the actual numbers of kittens that can realistically be born and proven solutions that whatever the numbers are, that they can be managed and controlled through spay/neuter efforts.

lots-of-cats

Think about it – 420,000 is the population of Long Beach, California. With one female cat being responsible for ultimately producing that many kittens, how many kittens could be produced by two female cats? Or three? It would almost seem as if we would be unable to walk outside, having to part a Red Sea of cats to pass. Many respectable people such as Christine Wilford, DVM, Christie Keith, journalist, and Peter Wolf, feral cat and TNR expert of Vox Felina agree with this assessment and cite anumbers study done by mathematicians at the University of Washington based on research by Dr. Michael Stoskopf, professor of aquatic and wildlife medicine at North Carolina State on feral cat colonies. The conclusion – while theoretically a female cat can have over three litters a year, those are extreme and highly unlikely conditions. A cat’s heat cycle is based on climate and daylight hours, so more realistically would be a cat having one to two litters a year. Of those litters, especially for outdoor feral cats, only about 75% of the kittens live to reach reproductive age. It is now more widely accepted that an unspayed female cat could have between 98 – 200 kittens in her lifetime. When you factor in possible offspring from offspring during that 7 year time frame, the more realistic number would be a collective 5000. Still a high number, but nowhere near the 420,000 figure.

The 420,000 figure is an urban myth that began sometime around 2005 with the Humane Society of the United States. They have long since removed the number from their site and it remains a mystery how the staggering number originated to begin with, which is part of the overall dilemma we face as cat advocates – many of the facts that are available to us are spotty and generalized at best. For example, the ASPCA reports that there are upward of 70 million homeless cats in the United States and approximately 5 to 7 million cats and dogs enter shelters every year, with 70% of the cats euthanized because the number of these cats far exceeds the number of adopters. But where are the figures year by year, state by state, county by county, and city by city? I have seen that 70 million figure for years. Wouldn’t it fluctuate from year to year? And why do they lump cats with dogs as one category of animals that enter shelters? How many are cats and how many are dogs?  Because there is not a national central database with statistics for every shelter across the country as to how many cats are euthanized each year and how many actual cats live outdoors or how numbers on how populations are reduced through TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return), we cannot accurately access where our efforts need to be best concentrated.

Christine-Becky-Deb

We know that there are success stories where TNR works, such as the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, Spartanburg Animal Services of South Carolina, and Jacksonsville Florida Feral Freedom to name a few and we need to use these examples as a powerful tools that make headlines rather than the overly sensationalized stories about cat hoarders or well intended PSA’s on local channels that only a handful of people watch. Or worse yet, depressing commercials with sad music and pictures of cats in cages – these images do not inspire pet responsibly and they do not discuss how and why spay/neuter not only controls overpopulation, but that it makes for a happier and healthier pet.

The dots have to be connected for people to understand – by promoting spay/neuter, cats are healthier and better behaved. As a result of that, far less of them will be brought to shelters for undesirable traits such as aggressive fighting and urine spraying that spay/neuter corrects. Less of them will be dumped on the streets with the potential to mate and contribute to the population of outdoor cat colonies – and those cats that do live on the streets can be managed and controlled through TNR efforts. The message that adopting a cat into your family can improve the quality of a person’s life needs to be heard loud and clear. A cat can decrease our depression, stress and anxiety levels. They can also lower our blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke and they make loving and devoted companions.

Let’s face it, we need the message of responsible spay/neuter to go viral like Keyboard Cat. We need our school systems to teach the virtues of spay/neuter as part of the curriculum so that our youth grows up with the importance of the message. We need Brian Williams, 60 Minutes, Nightline, Ellen DeGeneres, The View, and The Talk to devote significant air time to the fact that cat overpopulation can be reduced and managed if we commit ourselves as communities to the effort. If we need to tell the world that they will have less wrinkles to make that happen, then by all means, please feel free to borrow my headline. And regardless of any of the numbers or statistics, in my opinion, every cat or kitten deserves a good home, and even one cat that has to suffer is one cat too many…

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part Two – The Overall Health, Behavioral, and Emotional Benefits for Cats and Society at Large

February is National Spay/Neuter Month and the importance of spay/neuter as a safe and humane means of preventing pregnancy and reducing cat overpopulation is being championed by cat advocates nationwide, and with good reason. According to the ASPCA, there are upward of 70 million homeless cats in the United States and approximately 5 to 7 million cats and dogs that enter shelters every year, with 70% of the cats needlessly euthanized because the number of these cats far exceeds the number of adopters. When you consider that cats can reproduce at an alarming rate – an unspayed/neutered cat pair can lead up to 5,000 cats in 7 years, it is quickly evident that spay/neuter is essential to ensure that these numbers will not continue to escalate.

But spay/neuter is so much more than a method of birth control – the overall health, emotional, and behavioral benefits to a cat from spay/neuter are significant and can actually result in less cats ending up on the streets and in shelters in the first place by having the procedure done. Negative behavioral issues that are typically the by-product of an unaltered cat (territory marking and spraying, aggressive fighting, loud yowling, and roaming) are often the reason a cat is brought to a shelter or dumped on the streets by a frustrated and desperate pet guardian.

These cats then become part of an ugly and tragic cycle – outdoor cats are persecuted by community citizens frustrated by the annoying behavioral problems they can exhibit and unfortunately, rather than embrace TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) practices that can reduce these symptoms, often they are trapped and euthanized as the solution. Cats in shelters, older ones in particular that have not already been altered, may come with a host of behavioral problems that result in them being overlooked for adoptions, or worse, tragically euthanized.

When it comes to a pet in our home, these symptoms can cause a myriad of problems – stress on personal relationships when perhaps one partner wants to keep the cat, the other wants to get rid of it, stress with other pets if you live in a multi-pet household who are bothered by the erratic behavior of the unaltered cat, irrevocable damage to furniture and walls from urine marking, and even an unintentional resentment of a beloved pet because it is now so difficult to be around and not what you bargained for when you first adopted it. All of these behavioral problems can be virtually eliminated with early spay/neuter (a “pre-pubertal” spay/neuter is now recommended by veterinarians and is safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least 2 pounds, which is ideally between 8 and 12 weeks) and the truth is, until your cat is altered, it is instinctual for them to try to find a mate and most attempts at training, bribing with treats, or scolding to change the negative behavior are for naught.

Until a female is spayed, she will typically go into heat four to five days every three weeks during breeding season which is based on daylight hours. Calling for her mate, she will loudly vocalize through the duration of her heat and will urinate more frequently, often uncontrollably, throughout the house. She can be emotional, uncomfortable, and just generally difficult to be around. Her heat cycle is based on a hormone called melatonin, which is secreted by a gland in her brain. This hormone decreases with the arrival of more daylight, which triggers the heat cycle.

Because it is not unusual for an indoor cat to be exposed to artificial light year-round, she may experience almost constant hormonal activity and many more periods of heat. Since a kitten can go into heat as early as 4 months, it is just best to have her spayed at a young age. It is not necessary for her to experience her first heat before you spay her and she will be much happier and healthier in the long run for having the procedure done.

An unaltered male cat can demonstrate equally detrimental behavioral habits that are all but impossible to correct if he is not neutered at a young age. He can be extremely aggressive and territorial, marking the house by spraying walls and furniture with strong smelling urine. By having him neutered, not only will these tendencies be greatly reduced or eliminated, he will also be less likely to want to roam, which might result in an injury to him in traffic, a fatality, or finding a fertile female to impregnate.

The other significant benefit of spay/neuter is that it greatly improves the health and longevity of a cat’s life. Spaying a female prior to her first heat nearly eliminates the risk of mammary cancer, uterine infections, and uterine cancer, which is fatal to approximately 90% of cats according to the American Humane Association, and neutering a male before he is 6 months of age prevents testicular and prostate cancer. No one wants to see a beloved pet suffer these tragic types of illnesses, so having the procedure done is the best gift you can give your cat.

Clearly the benefits of spay/neuter are significant and far reaching – from reducing cat overpopulation to ensuring your cat has a happier and healthier life. But having a happy and healthy cat also benefits society at large. Studies have proven that our feline friends improve the quality of our human lives. A cat can decrease our depression, stress and anxiety. They can also lower our blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. They are used in rehabilitation facilities, senior citizen homes, hospitals, and even to help returning soldiers to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Having a pet cat in a family with children helps in their emotional development and encourages responsibility and compassion.

Proper diet, veterinary care, exercise, stimulating toys, scratching posts, comfortable bedding, and a clean litter box are all important to the well-being of our cat. By adding spay/neuter to the list, we are ensuring that our cat will live a long, happy, healthy life.

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.

 

Guest Post: Zee & Zoey’s Spay/Neuter Series, Part One – The Facts of Life: The 101’s of Kittens and Conception

Reprinted with permission from Deborah Barnes, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced. Copyright February 4, 2013.

While I consider Zee & Zoey’s kittens one of the biggest blessings of my life, it is also because of them that I have learned so much about the subject of spay/neuter and become such an advocate to educate people on the importance of the procedure for not only reducing cat over population on the streets and in shelters, but for the overall health and behavioral benefits to your cat. It just so happens that February is National Spay/Neuter month, so I thought what a better time than now to run a month long  series of informative posts on the subject to help promote the cause.

So that the topic doesn’t get overwhelming, I am going to break it into manageable concepts and thought I would begin with kittens, since they are what started it all in the first place for me! Yes, kittens, those irresistibly adorable balls of fur that melt our hearts with their playful antics and sweet and precious little faces. Did you know, however, that these darlings are actually powerful procreating machines that can sexually mature as early as 4 months of age?

That’s right. Crazy as it may seem, being mere babies themselves, but a female kitten can conceive as early as 4 months of age  and a male kitten can impregnate a fertile female at the same young age. Since the average gestation period for a cat is 63 days, that means that a kitten could deliver a litter when she is as young as 6 months old. The health and physical risks alone to the pregnant kitten are too scary to think of, not to mention that a kitten does not have the proper mental capacity to raise kittens herself. If you want some perspective, that’s like a pre-teen becoming pregnant, which we clearly know is wrong.

To prevent any early accidental pregnancies, a “pre-pubertal” spay/neuter is now recommended by veterinarians and is safe with kittens as soon as they weigh at least 2 pounds, which is ideally between 8 and 12 weeks of age. I know speaking from my own lessons learned, that I thought a female cat had to have experienced her first heat before you could have her spayed, but that simply is not the case and that is how I ended up with a litter of kittens. Once I knew the facts, I made sure all of Zoey’s kittens were spayed and neutered at a young age. We knew we were keeping three of her kittens – two girls and one boy – and I certainly did not want to risk having the male kitten mate with one of his sisters.

Another false impression that I was under, is that if a cat had a litter of kittens and was nursing, that she could not become pregnant while lactating. That is simply not the case and a lactating female should be kept away from any circumstances that could enable a willing male to find her. As soon as it is safely recommended by a veterinarian, a mother cat should be spayed to avoid the possibility of an unexpected litter.

But kittens are just so darn cute. What’s the big deal if another litter is born? Well, the big deal is that not all of these kittens are born into loving and responsible forever homes like Zoey’s kittens. According to the ASPCA, there are approximately 70 million homeless cats on the streets and in shelters and they all were kittens at one point. Kittens who become part of an endless breeding cycle if they are not altered. Kitten season will be upon us soon us (depending on climate, it begins in late spring, peaks in early summer, and ends in the fall) and shelters that are already filled to the brim will be overrun with more, as people will bring in litters that their own cat accidentally had, or litters that will be found out on the streets by an outdoor cat caretaker, or a stranger who happens upon a litter in an unexpected manner.

Not to mention, those kittens born outside do so with consequences. These precious, tiny little beings are practically helpless to survive on their own and have a high mortality rate – approximately 75% of them will die, suffering unbearably due to the harsh elements and for those that do survive and are found and brought to a shelter, they typically are adopted first, but it is at a price – it is usually at the expense of the older, less adoptable cats, such as seniors, cats with disabilities, or black cats who are often euthanized to make room for the more adoptable kittens.

What can we do? First of all, the only way to ensure there will not be unplanned or unwanted litters born is to have your cat spayed or neutered at an early age. The simple fact is that a male cat is wired to find a female cat in heat and a female cat will continue to have a heat cycle until she mates. And that includes indoor cats that you might think don’t need the procedure. Indoor pet cats can accidentally get outside and if you purposely let your pet cat outside, where there is a will, there is a way when it comes to finding a mate. Outdoor community cats need to become part of managed TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs and of critical importance, dumping your cats on the street, or litters of kittens on the street is not only cruel and inhumane; it is illegal and should never be an option.

So, the next time you see that cute photo of a sweet and fuzzy kitten, just remember that with that picture comes a price and it is not always a pretty one… Take the responsible road and have your cat spayed or neutered. Not only will you be helping control cat overpopulation, but your cat will be healthier and happier for having the procedure which I will discuss in further detail as part of this series.

Deborah Barnes resides in the tropical paradise of South Florida with her fiancé and feline family of seven. She is the author of the 5-star rated books, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary and Purr Prints of the Heart – A Cat’s Tale of Life, Death, and Beyond, as well as the award winning blog, Zee & Zoey’s Cat Chronicles that continues to cover the everyday journey she shares with her cats along with topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.  Deborah was awarded 2013 “Writer of the Year” by Friskies Purina on behalf of the Cat Writers’ Association and she is also the Secretary of the nonprofit, Pawsitively Humane, Inc. of Miami, Florida, whose mission is to create public awareness and reduce the numbers of animals on the streets and in shelters through an extensive educational campaign.