Guest Post: Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Needs Your Help by Brady Rivers

Numbers make everything sound more official. Let’s take a look at some of the digits LAA has seen over the past year:

  • 2,600: The total number of dogs, cats, and occasional rabbit that LAA has helped spay or neuter since our Low-Cost Spay/Neuter voucher program began in 2010.
  • 200: The number of vouchers sent to Lincoln cat owners during the “Fix Me Meow” campaign in early 2016.
  • 100: The number (each!) of Chihuahuas and pitbulls spayed and neutered through “The Mighty and the Tiny” campaign in 2016.
  • 100%: The percentage of our organization that is supported by donations and volunteers.

Not to toot our own horn, but these numbers are better than we ever could have imagined just over six years ago. That’s a lot of unwanted litters prevented, a lot of pet parents helped, and a lot of shelter animals who have a better chance of being adopted. And our supporters–those in Lincoln and beyond who care about companion animals and people in need–had a huge part in making those numbers so great.

But here’s one number our spay/neuter fund moves toward every day: 0.

Donations Please, Flickr Commons
Donations Please, Flickr Commons

LAA is faced with cutting back on the number of vouchers we provide to pet parents in need. Because spaying and neutering is absolutely one of the best solutions to pet overpopulation, we want to avoid this for as long as possible. Now more than ever, we need your support to keep the spay/neuter program going strong.

Here are some more numbers to consider contributing:

  • $25 toward a cat neuter
  • $50 toward a cat spay or small/medium dog neuter
  • $100 toward a large dog neuter or small dog spay
  • $150-$200 toward a medium/large dog spay

Don’t know about all the ways you can donate? Have a look at this handy list:

  • Mail a check to our post office box: Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, P.O. Box 67072, Lincoln, NE 68506
  • Make a secure Paypal donation at lincolnanimalambassadors.org
  • Shop Amazon.com and donate 0.5% of your purchase to LAA through AmazonSmile

Visit and make a donation at one of our upcoming events, including:

  • I Love My Dog Expo on February 25-26th
  • Spay-ghetti and No Balls on March 25th
  • Wine and Howl on June 3rd

Your contributions ARE making a difference. Thanks for all you do to help address animal homelessness!

Spay/Neuter Challenge

We’ve all heard the advice to spay and neuter our pets. Yet about 25% haven’t been. Why? There are really only four main reasons. The first is a desire to breed. Another is a concern about the health of a pet. A third is expense. The fourth is the belief that the issue doesn’t apply to the single-pet owner.

Those who plan to breed their pets should know that 2.4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year as a result of overpopulation. In other words, every puppy or kitten you bring into the world is a death sentence for another.

SpayNeuter_2ndDogChance

Those who think they can keep their intact pet from mating should know that, in 1996, 5.46 million kittens (82% of the total number of kittens were born that year) and 2.6 million puppies (43% of the total number of puppies born that year) were the result of unplanned litters. That’s over eight million kittens and puppies that were born because their owners thought they were in control.

Those who cannot afford sterilization should know there is local financial support. Everyone owes it to their pets to carefully consider the spay-neuter challenge.

Excuse #1a: I want to breed my pet (I want a purebred)

Dogs have an average litter size of 7.57 and cats have an average litter size of 5.73. Breeding your own pet because you want one or two more for yourself is like making a batch of cookies every time you want to eat one or two, then having to find other people who are also in the mood for cookies. Why not just find someone who will sell you one or two cookies?

There are other sources for pets, even purebreds. About 25% of pets in shelters are purebred. There are also many breed-specific rescue organizations; in Nebraska and the surrounding areas, there are about thirty breed-specific dog groups. And of course there are professional breeders.

Excuse #1b: I want to breed my pet (I want another pet like the one I have)

It is not possible to create a pet identical to your own. Are you identical to either of your parents? Even professional breeders cannot guarantee what characteristics will be inherited by a litter.

Excuse #1c: I want to breed my pet (I want my children to experience the” miracle of birth”)

Frequently, animals go off by themselves to give birth or do so during the night, so it is unlikely that your child will see the birthing process. While seeing the birth of baby animals may teach children a love for living things, this lesson can be taught in ways that do are not at the expense of your pet and its offspring.

After your pet gives birth and the lesson is over, you will have about half a dozen new kittens or puppies. Now what? Will you run ads in the newspaper or online? Will you try to convince all of your friends that they need a pet? At best, finding homes for all the babies will take a lot of work. And consider that each home you find will mean one less for the dogs and cats desperately waiting in shelters. The “miracle of birth” is quickly overshadowed by the millions of companion animals that are euthanized each year.

But at least your dog’s or cat’s babies will have good homes, right? Except that once they are out of your house, you no longer have any control over their fates. Did you know that among household-dwelling pets, 17% of dogs and 14% of cats were obtained from friends; but among pets relinquished to shelters, 31% of dogs and 32% of cats were obtained from friends? Pets obtained from friends are relinquished to shelters with far greater frequency than pets obtained from almost all other sources. When you allow your pet to breed, you are choosing to add to the population of unwanted pets.

If you still would like your children to witness a birth in your own home, you can volunteer as a foster family with a rescue group that targets abandoned pregnant animals. Did you know that limited space at shelters often means that pregnant dogs and cats are among the first euthanized? By providing foster care for a pregnant animal, you will be helping the organization, the animals, and giving your kids the opportunity to witness the miracle of birth – and you won’t even be responsible for finding homes for the babies.

Excuse #2a: I don’t want be cruel to my pet (doing so puts my pet’s health at risk)

By not spaying your female pet, you are actually shortening her life. Uterine infections and breast cancer are more common in intact pets and are frequently fatal. Isn’t this the opposite of your stated goal?

Intact females will react to hormonal changes during heat cycles, which will turn them into nervous, whiny, yowling pets that attract unwanted male attention. You’ll also have to deal with the messiness of diapers.

As for males, those left intact will do just about anything to find a mate. Their sexual urges might lead them to mark territory and mount furniture. They’ll also feel a strong need to roam, which may lead them to dig their way under fences. Once on the loose, they risk injury in traffic and fights with other males. Neutering also greatly reduces risk of prostate cancer.

Intact pets of either sex will be more likely to exert dominance over other pets or become aggressive and bite or scratch. Both of these can lead to contagious diseases, even in humans. They also will remain more desirous of marking territory and being general nuisances.

Did you notice all of the behavior issues that will crop up with intact pets? It should therefore come as more surprise that intact pets are more likely than altered pets to be relinquished to shelters.

Granted, placing a pet under anesthesia is a concern. Although there is always a slight risk involved, anesthetics currently used by veterinarians are considered safe. Moreover, veterinarians will monitor heart and respiratory rates during surgery to ensure that their anesthetized patients are doing well. Spay and neuter surgeries are among the most routinely performed surgeries for cats and dogs. Most pets go home the same day, return to normal activities within 24 to 72 hours, and have a full recovery in a week.

Excuse #2b: I don’t want be cruel to my pet (my male dog’s manhood will be destroyed)

Your pet’s basic personality is formed more by genetics and home life than by sex hormones. Sterilization does not change basic personality, cause sluggishness, or weaken the natural instinct to protect the pack. If anything, neutering your male will make him less interested in roaming to look for a mate, thus focusing his energy on pleasing you. Combined with the right training, sterilization might help you have a better behaved pet.

Excuse #2c: I don’t want be cruel to my pet (pets should have one litter first for health reasons)

There is no medical evidence of health benefits to dogs or cats that have produced one litter prior to sterilization. In fact, spaying female dogs and cats before their first heat is easier on them than waiting until later in their life. Smaller pets have less body fat, meaning less tissue trauma and less bleeding. Smaller pets need less anesthesia, meaning they will wake faster and generally able to go home the same day.

Excuse #2d: I don’t want be cruel to my pet (my pet is too young)

The American Veterinary Medical Association has endorsed the practice of Early Age Neutering – that is, sterilizing at the age of two months or the weight of two pounds. Animals recover more quickly from surgery when they are young.

There can be extenuating circumstances, and so your veterinarian should advise you on the most appropriate age to spay or neuter your pet based on its breed, age, and physical condition. However, Dr. Philip A. Bushby, a professor of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, believes: “We should still be promoting early-age spay-neuter because of the population dynamics involved.”

spayneuter_thebouncymuttExcuse #3: I can’t afford it

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors offers a low-cost spay-neuter voucher program in cooperation with nine Lincoln vet clinics. People pay what they can afford toward the procedure and LAA pays the rest. Since 2010, LAA has altered more than 1,600 pets, averaging about 300 pets per year. Are you part of the spay-neuter solution?

Excuse #4: I don’t need to because  I have an indoor pet with no mating prospects

Accidents can happen and any pet can escape its house or yard. In the few minutes that your pet is running lose, it could mate with other wandering intact pets.

Conclusion

In 1996, about 300,000 kittens and about 400,000 puppies were relinquished to shelters each year. They were not taken in by a family and then relinquished–they went straight from their mother to the shelter because homes could not be found for them. Of the 18,000 dogs and cats that enter Nebraska shelters each year, about 5,000 are euthanized. When you don’t have your pet spayed or neutered, whatever your reasons, you are contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.

Dr. Jed Rogers, senior vice president of Animal Health Services for the ASPCA, says: “The increase in spay-neuter over the past 50 years has been driven by veterinarians and shelters. We’ve done that, and I’m proud of us for doing that.” We can all help stop needless deaths. Accept the challenge: Spay and neuter your pets today. No excuses!

SPAY/NEUTER MYTHS

Anti-Cruelty 

ASPCA

Cesar Millan

Found Animals

Humane Society

SNAP

AVMA

RELEVANT STATISTICS

ASPCA

Firepaw

Independent

NE Humane Society

Oxford Pets

USA Today

Spay/Neuter Awareness

With February being Spay/Neuter Awareness month, it’s time once again to talk about the importance of getting your pets fixed. This week, my focus will be on our feline friends.

In a perfect world, we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. But the reality is 1.4 million unwanted cats are euthanized each year. In addition, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) there are an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats. Clearly, we have a pet overpopulation crisis, and the one message animal welfare experts keep repeating is this: spaying and neutering is the best way to change those numbers.

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CAT REPRODUCTION

There’s an interesting article at Live Science, which summarizes recent research as showing that “cat owners could use a refresher on the ‘birds and the bees,’ at least when it comes to their feline companions.” I won’t bore you with the statistics, but will share owner misconceptions about feline reproduction that contribute to our cat overpopulation crisis.

First, there’s the ignorance about the age at which cats can get pregnant. Quick, show of hands! Is it twelve months? Six months? Wrong and wrong. Did you know that kittens as young as three months old can get pregnant? This means it’s medically okay, and even recommended, to spay a cat when she’s a kitten. She just needs to be at least eight weeks old and weigh at least two pounds.

Second, there’s the ignorance about whether or not cat siblings can reproduce. Apparently, 39% of surveyed cat owners believed siblings couldn’t. The reality is they can. And do!

Finally, there’s a belief that female cats should have a litter before spayed. Pet overpopulation aside, spaying a female makes sense for health reasons too. It greatly reduces the risk of cancers if you have a cat spayed before the first heat and certainly before she has a litter. Moreover, spaying is an easier medical procedure if done before the first heat.

CAT REPRODUCTION STATS

Many cats “come into heat” as often as once every few weeks, especially in warmer climates. The warm weather will coincide with the female cats’ heat cycles, causing a kitten “season” starting in spring, peaking in late spring or early summer, and ending in fall.

The serious stats are:

  • Average number of litters a fertile cat can produce in one year: 2-3
  • Average number of kittens in a feline litter: 4–6
  • Average number of kittens in a seven-year period: 87

When you consider that half of those kittens will be female, and that each of those female kittens can also produce 87 kittens in seven years, the numbers add up quickly. One common stat is that a single unspayed cat and its offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in a seven year period. Obviously that’s a hypothetical maximum. Others say a more realistic figure is five thousand. Whichever number you use, it’s thousands more than would have been produced if that first female cat had been spayed.

In all likelihood, you’ve already seen statistics similar to the above in a pretty graphic that circulates online. They’re fairly common among animal groups. But when data from The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) shows that 5.64 million kittens are produced annually from unplanned litters, we would all do well to educate ourselves about cat reproduction and to really pay attention to its impact on pet overpopulation. Margaret Slater, senior director of veterinary epidemiology at ASPCA, has pointed out in Live Science, “People don’t realize that it’s difficult to keep a cat from getting pregnant.”

BENEFITS OF SPAY/NEUTER

Let’s consider the benefits of spay/neuter to your cat, who knows nothing about the overpopulation crisis.

For males, neutering reduces his risk from numerous health problems. Although cats are different than dogs and wander for reasons other than reproducing, such as hunting, neutering will decrease a tom’s urge to roam and to fight; this lowers his chances of disease transmission and injury. In particular, deep bite wounds are the leading factor in the transmission of feline leukemia [FeLV] and feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]. Neutering also eliminates the powerful odor of adult male cat urine, as well as the tendency of males to spray in the house. Both of these last benefits will make you happier, and a happier you makes for a happier cat!

For females, neutering also reduces her risk from numerous health problems. Executive director, Rebecca Guinn, at LifeLine Animal Project notes that they see a lot of unspayed cats come into the clinic with pyometra (an infection of the uterus) which can be life-threatening. Spaying reduces urine-marking. Unaltered cats have urges that make them irritable and anxious. They yowl or whine frequently, fight with other cats, and/or destroy objects in the house. Spaying will eliminate these behaviors. Again, a happier you will make for a happier cat!

THE SPAY/NEUTER OPERATION

What does spay/neuter mean? Spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat’s ovaries and uterus, while neutering is the removal of a male cat’s testicles. Only licensed veterinarians are allowed to perform these operations.

How do spay/neuter operations work? Prior to surgery, your veterinarian may carry out a complete physical examination of your cat or draw a sample of his blood for analysis. To minimize pain and discomfort, both spaying and neutering are conducted while your cat is under general anesthesia.

What happens after spay/neuter operations? Most cats are back to normal within a few days. The surgery site usually heals within two weeks and any skin stitches are removed at a follow-up appointment with your vet.

THE BOTTOM LINE ABOUT SPAY/NEUTER

As I stated at the beginning, in a perfect world we might not need to spay/neuter our cats. However, with 1.4 million cats being euthanized each year and an estimated 30 to 40 million homeless cats, we clearly have a pet overpopulation crisis. Best Friends Animal Society explains, “Spaying or neutering your cat prevents unwanted births, which helps reduce overpopulation in shelters. Millions of unwanted animals end up in shelters or on the streets each year. Only a lucky few are adopted; the rest are either euthanized or die from trauma, exposure, starvation or disease. By spaying or neutering your cat, you do your part to prevent this tragedy.”

Since 2010, LAA has altered more than 2,600 pets, averaging about 300 pets per year. Imagine how many lives have already been saved! But right now, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is running low on funds. Please consider donating towards the cause!

Pauline Balta, Coordinator of LAA’s Spay/Neuter Program

Are you interested in helping the cause of animal homelessness? In my continuing series about Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, I’ll profile a few members who dedicate their time and passions to changing the world of companion animals. Because spay/neuter is one of the cornerstones of combating pet overpopulation, I’ll start with the coordinator of LAA’s spay/neuter program, Pauline Balta.

In The Beginning

PaulineBaltaAdopted animals have long been part of Pauline’s adult life. Her first came in 1981, when the Balta family adopted a West Highland terrier blend from the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. A second came in 1993, when she fell in love with a big orange kitten while she was at the same shelter “just looking”. The third came only one year later in 1994 when her family adopted a “brilliant, naughty Border Collie/Golden Retriever blend” from the Capital Humane Society.

During this time, Pauline had little awareness of pet homelessness. That changed when the family adopted a dog in 2002 from Hearts United for Animals, a large no-kill shelter in southeastern Nebraska. Her involvement with HUA, which now includes over fourteen years of volunteer work, opened her eyes to the “the outrageous number of homeless cats and dogs which exist in the United States”.

Wanting to actively do something about the over four million companion animals are killed at shelters annually, in 2008, Pauline joined a grass-roots group that was brainstorming ways to make lives better for companion animals. She felt then and now that there must be a better way to reduce the numbers of unwanted animal litters than euthanasia.

We decided to participate in the LAA program as it is a way of giving back to the pet community and reduces the overpopulation of unplanned kittens and puppies. We have participated since 2009, so about 7 years. Hence we are involved. Spaying and neutering as mentioned above reduces unplanned litters, mitigates future health and behavioral issues, and makes life easier for pet owners.

–Dr. Jim from Vintage Heights Veterinary

Out of those early meetings, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors was born. Pauline started out as LAA’s board secretary, then served as a member of the spay/neuter committee, and currently holds two positions: vice-president and coordinator of the spay/neuter committee.

From the start, Pauline believed that LAA would “grow into a highly successful organization recognized by the community for the work it does.” With her background in organization communication and computer skills, Pauline also felt she could contribute to the success of LAA. For these reasons, she stayed on with LAA when it officially became a nonprofit organization.

Pauline’s Role as Spay/Neuter Coordinator

Pauline's Dogs: Vincent, Foster Dog Leandro, Tico and Lucy peeking over Tico. Going for a ride--which we don't do much as they all insist on sitting in the front seat!
Pauline’s Dogs: “Vincent, Foster Dog Leandro, Tico and Lucy peeking over Tico. Going for a ride–which we don’t do much as they all insist on sitting in the front seat!”

When the previous spay/neuter coordinator left, Pauline accepted the responsibilities of this position. Pauline turned out to be the ideal fit, not just because of her passion for saving animals, but also because of her knowledge of Microsoft Access which allowed her to develop a database to track all spay/neuter clients. With this she’s able to “record and keep information for all clients ever associated with our spay/neuter program, print the vouchers, and produce reports on the progress of our program.”

Pauline’s duties as the spay/neuter coordinator involve working with vet clinics, clients, and a team of spay/neuter interviewers. I inquired of some of the participating vets about the reasons why their clinic works with LAA. Obviously, a main reason is they believe in the benefits of spaying/neutering animals. Along with this procedure, all of them also offer some kind of variation on other preventative care, again because they believe in its importance. Dr. Megan Elhers stated, “It is important to offer anything that is preventative. Vaccines, parasiticides, routine parastite screening, and spay/neuter options are all important to aid in prevention of diseases that are expensive and difficult to treat. Dr. Kimberly Ehlers noted, “Our involvement with LAA involves performing spays and neuters on these pets, as well as other procedures that may be necessary such as hernia repairs. We do require that the pets are vaccinated and that dogs over 6 months are tested for heartworm, but these requirements are good for proper health care of your pet anyway and should be done regardless of whether the pet is spayed or neutered.” A final reason given by the vets I talked with is the desire to give back to the community. In appreciation for their support to LAA, Pauline has on several occasions delivered baskets of cookies to each vet clinic in honor of World Spay/Neuter Day.

Calls to Pauline from vets involve everything from the clinic hasn’t “received a voucher for a pet parent who called to set an appointment” to the clinic that has “admitted a dog with pyrometra” (a life-threatening infection of the female reproductive tract). In this latter situation, the dog needs to be spayed as soon as possible and so, if the client doesn’t have a voucher and can’t afford the cost of a regular spay, the clinic wants to know if LAA will cover the cost.

We do spays and neuters for LAA to help the community in reducing the number of unwanted puppies and kittens. There are way too many animals looking for homes, and we do not need to add to that burden. If people in the community are educated about getting their pets spayed and neutered, there will be less stray animals, and less pets in shelters fighting for their right to a happy home.

–Kimberly Ehlers from Parkview Animal Care

Calls to Pauline from clients involve everything from they need spay/neuter vouchers reissued to they don’t want to have their pets altered in order to take advantage of LAA’s other services. Regarding the latter, as a prerequisite to using LAA’s pet food bank is having pets fixed. Therefore, Pauline must convince clients to agree to the spay/neuter procedure. She always has on hand a list of “things to think about” when this issue arises.

Pauline's Cat: Jasper helping with s/n vouchers.
Pauline’s Cat: “Jasper helping with s/n vouchers.”

If you think this is already plenty of duties for a volunteer with a full-time job and a family, Pauline also spends many of her evenings on other coordinator duties. She adds clients and voucher information to the spay/neuter database. She prints and mails vouchers to clients and vet clinics. Finally, she answers any questions her team of volunteer spay/neuter interviewers might have about the clients they serve.

Since becoming involved with LAA, Pauline has experienced both sad and happy moments. Naturally, given her passion for saving animals, her biggest disappointment has come from learning a dog or cat has been surrendered to the pound because the family decided they just couldn’t/wouldn’t care for their pet any longer.

On the flip side, her greatest joy comes from realizing the efforts that pet guardians will go through to keep their beloved pets with them and make sure they’re healthy. “I think about the 19 year-old woman holding two/three jobs who rescued a dog running through her neighborhood. She was determined to keep the dog who turned out to be pregnant. This young woman called LAA to get help spaying the momma dog when the pups were weaned, then went on to spay the pups. Just recently the same young woman called because she had rescued a dog from a bad situation and needed to get him neutered. Stories like these keep me going.”

Currently, LAA’s low-cost spay/neuter services are available at select veterinary clinics and are obtained with vouchers. Pauline’s ultimate dream for LAA is to host a low cost spay/neuter program that is housed in its own building, with local veterinarians volunteering their time to perform the surgeries.

How You Can Help

Pauline's Cat: Miss Fluffy Pants Marmalade resting after terrorizing me and the dogs while running full speed through the house!
Pauline’s Cat: :Miss Fluffy Pants Marmalade resting after terrorizing me and the dogs while running full speed through the house!”

If you’re interested in helping the cause of animal homelessness, LAA could use your assistance in both small and big ways. To start, Pauline advised, simply educate yourself about the need. You can follow-up on this by then talking to every pet owner who has unaltered dogs and/or cats. “Convince them to spay or neuter their pets.” Actually, when I talked with participating vets about what is needed in the community, all of them stressed education too. Dr. Kimberly Ehlers put forth the idea that, “Some adoption services such as shelters and rescues are necessary, but education of the community about the responsibilities and costs of caring for a pet as a big priority. With education, the need for other services becomes less in demand.”

Spaying and neutering pets helps decrease behavioral problems that can ultimately lead to surrender of an animal. Also, it helps to prevent some serious medical conditions. We know that pets neutered and spayed early have a much lower chance of developing prostate and mammary tumors. They also can avoid emergency surgery related to infection. By controlling their ability to reproduce, spaying and neutering also keeps the numbers of pets in shelters without homes.

–Megan Ehlers from Ehlers Animal Care

If you have the time, a third way is serve as a volunteer with one of LAA’s phone line shifts for returning spay/neuter inquiry calls. Phone calls can be picked up from the comfort of your own home, using your own telephone. Hours are flexible. You don’t need to pick up a call when it comes in, but can return a call from a voicemail message system when it’s convenient for you. Having access to a computer with an internet connection is required, so that you can communicate with the other LAA volunteers. Some experience in viewing and entering small amounts of data on a Google Docs spreadsheet is also be helpful, but training will be provided to anyone who needs it. Duties take up to two hours per week, depending on your shift. If interested, we’d love to hear from you through our volunteer application.

Pauline’s heart has remained solidly entrenched in animal welfare from the moment her eyes were opened in 2002 to the plight of pet homelessness. She continues to volunteer at HUA. She’s also taken on the responsibility of handling pre-adoption home visits for several local animal rescue groups. In addition, as you might expect, she cares for a house full of rescued animals.

If you too are passionate about finding a solution to pet homelessness (and we at Pet Talk hope you are!), please consider donating time and/or money to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Be part of making a difference in the lives animals!

SPAY/NEUTER ARTICLES

What Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Does

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is a well-known local animal welfare group, but what exactly do they do? They don’t rescue dogs from puppy mills or high-kill shelters. They don’t rehabilitate emaciated pets. They don’t offer adorable puppies and kittens for adoption. Yet Lincoln Animal Ambassadors provides essential services to the Lancaster County pet community as part of its mission to “address the root cause of animal homelessness”. In this article, I’ll describe the group’s services.

One service offered by LAA is a low-cost spay/neuter program for those residing in Lancaster County who are unable to pay the full cost of altering their pet. Spaying and neutering reduces the risk of cancer in both males and females. It also curbs undesirable behaviors such as aggression and the insatiable desire to seek attention from the opposite sex. Just as important, according to animal welfare experts, spaying and neutering is one of the best ways to curb pet overpopulation. And when one looks at the numbers, we clearly have an issue. To cite just two stats: 2.4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year as a result of overpopulation. In addition, there are estimated 70 million homeless dogs and cats. By making spay/neuter more affordable, LAA makes these benefits more accessible.

How can you take advantage of LAA’s low-cost spay/neuter program? To have your name added to the low cost spay/neuter program wait list, complete the form at LAA’s website or leave a message at 402-817-1168. A LAA volunteer will return your call. A short phone interview will be conducted to obtain information for completing a voucher, which includes determining what veterinarian clinic from a select list you intend to use. The voucher will be issued to both you and the selected veterinarian clinic during the interview. Once you receive the voucher, the responsibility will fall on you to schedule a vet appointment and to take your pet to it. The amount you’ll pay to have your pet spayed/neutered will depend on what you can afford. The difference is covered by donations, fundraisers, and grants.

Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Application

Another service offered by LAA is a pet food bank for those residing in Lancaster County who are in need of temporary help in caring for their pets. This service helps provide relief to the emotional stress of owners who aren’t able to provide for their pets. It also reduces the number of pets that end up being taken to already overcrowded shelters. One study ranked cost as the fourth most common reason for pet relinquishment. In addition, numerous pet food bank sites cite this startling statistic: financial hardship accounts for approximately 25% of the pets that are surrendered to shelters.

Companion animals and their people often rely on each other for their mental and physical well-being, so this program helps prevent the trauma that results for both the pets and their people, when they cannot afford to feed, care for or keep their pets.

How can you take advantage of LAA’s pet food bank program? To have your name added to the pet food program, complete the form at LAA’s website or leave a message at 402-817-1168. You’ll need to agree to participate in LAA’s low-cost spay/neuter program if your pet(s) are unaltered, as well as showing proof of financial need. For those receiving WIC, Medicaid, or food stamps, provide a statement of qualifying benefit period. Others can prove financial need by documenting all earned and unearned income, including: paycheck stubs for the past month, child support or unemployment compensation benefits, and/or a copy of last year’s income tax form. (More details can be found on the LAA website by clicking the link provided below.) LAA’s Pet Food Pickup location is 4640 Bair Avenue. Days and times for pickup may vary according to volunteer availability. When you pick up pet food, which can be for multiple pets, you’ll need to show a current driver’s license. A household can receive pet food once every thirty days. The food bank is supported solely by donations, fundraisers, and grants. This means assistance is NOT guaranteed, is on a case-by-case basis, and is only temporary.

Pet Food Bank Application

Another service offered by LAA is a low-cost shot clinic. This service helps brings affordable pet care to families. Although offerings vary based on location, options for care might include vaccinations and heartworm and flea prevention. Vaccinations are essential for protecting pets from contagious diseases. Preventing heartworm and fleas is easier than treatment after the fact, and according to the American Heartworm Association “prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease”.

How can you take advantage of LAA’s low-cost shot clinic? Clinic locations, hours, and offerings are listed at LAA’s website. No appointments are necessary. No exam fees are charged. Some of the clinics provide free health check for any pets that receive vaccinations and offer reduced costs for other services, such as allergy shots, ear cleaning, nail trimming, and expressing of anal glands.


LAA_Stats

Low-Cost Shot Clinics

The final service of LAA is education. LAA is committed to “creating positive change for local companion animals, and we firmly believe that change comes through education.” As such, LAA offers both presentations and educational materials on responsible pet ownership, basic behavior training, the importance and benefits of spay/neuter, and other topics. On a weekly basis, you can also find informative and human interest articles right here at LAA Pet Talk.

When I started blogging for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors almost two years ago, I have to admit that I knew little about the group’s services. I simply wanted to use my creative talents to help animals. As I learned more about LAA’s services, I grew proud of my involvement with the group. Please follow LAA Pet Talk over the next month as I introduce you to some of the wonderful people who make this vital community group thrive. And, on May 26, please support all the valuable services that LAA provides by donating to LAA as part of Give to Lincoln Day.

SPAY/NEUTER ARTICLES

The Faces of Feral Cats

Trap-Neuter-Release is the most effective program for reducing the cat overpopulation. My first four articles on the topic presented the facts that support that claim. Personally, it wasn’t the facts alone that won me over. Even after wading through all the pros and cons of TNR, the cats themselves are why TNR is dear to my heart. What follows then are the stories behind three unique faces; ones which, if you’re unfamiliar with feral cat colonies, may surprise you.

THE KITTENS

Frankie and Annie are two cats who were born to a small, young, black cat in a feral cat colony. Caretakers affectionately dubbed that cat “Gravel Road Mama”. Those grown-up kittens now belong to Randy and Jill.

Back when Jill was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she would notice feral cats around campus. From day one, she worried about them, wanted to help them, and even desired to own one. She was understandably excited, therefore, when she learned about a volunteer group of students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university that formed in 2008 to ensure a high quality life for the campus cats. That group is called Husker Cats, which since its formation has stabilized and even reduced the feral cat population due to TNR.

Jill both donated to the group and kept up with news of the group’s activities. In the summer of 2014, through friends, Jill heard about the trapping of a feral kitten. According to the vet who checked the black cat, Frankie didn’t want to be feral. In fact, everyone who met Frankie was crazy about him. The Flagels requested a visit with Frankie, thinking they’d decide at the time whether to foster.

After returning from the Apple Jack Festival in Nebraska City, they jumped back in their car the next day and went to see Frankie. “We thought we were just going to visit,” Jill told me, “but they had Frankie ready to go.”

The Flagels took Frankie home. Because Frankie would need time to adjust before being introduced to the rest of the house and to their other cats, the Flagels isolated him in a bedroom with a litter box and food. In the morning, Randy would check on Frankie, and in the evening both Jill and Randy would spend time with Frankie in him room. As the days passed, it was evident from the number of paws being poked under the door that the Flagels’ cats were eager to get to know Frankie. It was also evident that Frankie wanted out of the room. One day the Flagels opened the door, retreated to the living room, and let Frankie venture out on his own when he was ready. He did this slowly, and none of the other cats bothered him. There were no disagreements, nor any hissing or fights. Frankie stayed out and became part of the family.


In the meantime, Frankie’s mom still lived in the colony and had eluded the traps. Not surprisingly then, several months later Jill heard that Gravel Road Mama had given birth to a kitten, this time a female. The Flagels now had three cats, with no plans for a fourth. But the kitten’s birthday fell on the same day Jill’s. In addition, the Flagels were tempted by the prospect of uniting Frankie with his sister. After some talk, they decided to ask to adopt Annie. Incidentally, this wasn’t their chosen name for her, but they decided to keep the name after learning it’d been chosen to honor a woman who had drowned during the floods that month.

Without early human contact, feral kittens will grow up wild. They’ll routinely face the threat of disease, starvation, flooded drainpipes, frostbite, and predators such as eagle and fox. They’ll also never know the safety, comfort, and love of a human family. In contrast, if captured at the right age, feral kittens can often be tamed within weeks. Such has proved to be the case with Frankie and Annie.

Today all four of the Flagels’ cats follow Randy around whenever he’s home. Frankie loves to have his head rubbed. At night, Frankie sleeps by Jill’s stomach and Annie sleeps next to Jill’s face. Jill notes that the cats have also connected her and her husband “into this family of cat lovers and special cats”. Pretty good for two cats who were born to feral parents and spent their first three months outside! And here’s a bonus: Gravel Road Mama herself was adopted this fall!

THE STRAYS

The dirty and skinny black cat looked like any other feral when he first showed up on campus. The shy and fearful cat was trapped, taken to the veterinarian for neutering and vaccinations, given a name, and then released where he’d been found. Day after day, caretakers of the feral colony brought food and water to JoJo and the other colony cats.

JoJo gradually began to warm up to one of the caretakers, even asking for attention from her before settling to eat. Then one summer day, this caretaker found JoJo soaking wet. She wrapped him in a warm blanket and picked him up. JoJo accepted this human contact and purred in response.

Adult cats that show up in feral colonies may be lost or abandoned, having long ago left behind memories of home and family. The longer these cats are separated from people, the more timid and defensive they can become. With time and patience, however, many of them can learn to reconnect with human companions.

JoJo is a testament to what can be achieved. When Ellen and Rob Shutt heard about JoJo, they wanted to get him off the streets and into a warmer environment before winter. Although JoJo was initially terrified, preferring to hide, he eventually learned to trust the Shutts. As Rob sat with JoJo and talked to him, JoJo became more relaxed. One day, JoJo even ventured onto Rob’s lap.

Only a month after that significant breakthrough, JoJo progressed from wanting to be held for only a few seconds to enjoying regular snuggle time with Rob. JoJo also began to rub up against Ellen’s leg and accept her gentle caresses. Ellen says that one of the highs of being a pet foster parent is seeing the transformation of a once feral cat into a loving companion.

In the spring of 2014, JoJo was placed in The Cat House with the hopes that he would find a forever home. Only a few months later, the feral colony caretakers received the news of his adoption. When his new guardian met JoJo for the first time, JoJo walked right up to her as if he had been expecting her. As one volunteer for Husker Cats said, “Obviously, he recognized LOVE when it walked in the door.”

THE FERALS

As far as anyone knows, Bootsie was born outside. She has been seen on campus as a kitten, so her age is known to be about three years old. I first met Bootsie while volunteering with Husker Cats. Immediately, she shattered my stereotype of feral cats being wild. Instead she became for me the poster cat for the potential of feral cats. You see, Bootsie would come up to her caretakers for back scratches and even would occasionally even show a playful side. Therein lay a dilemma.

Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species. The three groups, however, differ from one another in their relationship to and interactions with people. Feral cats are those which were born in the wild or have experienced minimal contact with humans. As such, they have socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, rather than to people. These cats, who have learned by necessity to survive outside, typically do not allow humans to touch them.

In contrast, Bootsie seemed to have the potential to become someone’s pet cat and so, this past spring, my husband and I began the adventure of fostering Bootsie. At first, because we weren’t sure how she would adapt to indoor life, Bootsie stayed in a crate in our library. Within only a few days, Bootsie made it clear by her growing agitation that she wanted more freedom. In response, we opened the door of her crate and gave her the run of the library. By her interest in eating outside of the crate, playing with toys, and interacting with my husband and me, Bootsie showed us that we had made the right choice.

The next challenge would be our feisty and standoffish Tortoiseshell, Cinder. To acclimate the two cats to one another, we followed all the guidelines about initially keeping cats separated and then slowly introducing them. Initially, this involved exchanging scents through swapping beds, toys, litter, and even rooms. When the day of introductions arrived, we put a partition between the library and the hall to limit their exposure to each other. In addition, at first, the library door was only opened about a foot. We increased that amount daily and within a week, the cats were able to eat and play within sight of one another. When Bootsie tried to climb the partition, we realized it was time to fully integrate her into our household.

Doing such required introducing her to our toy poodle. The two quickly realized that neither proved a threat or even a competition to one another. Integrating her fully into our household also meant allowing Bootsie to explore the rest of our house. My husband and I had to learn to respect Bootsie’s timidity and to allow her time to realize that our home truly would be a safe haven for her. We also had to figure out that the first sound of rain will send Bootsie running for cover under our bed. Oh, and apparently, Miss Bootsie doesn’t care for robes or coats.

Bootsie_LapCatAt the same time, we’ve also been given the privilege of getting to know one of the most polite and loving cats you could imagine. Without our ever training her, Bootsie knows how to wait patiently for treats. She also responds well to: “No!” Every morning while I write these articles, Bootsie curls up on my lap. In the evening, wherever I am, Bootsie seeks me out.

Even now as I scroll through the hundreds of photos I’ve taken of Bootsie, I feel amazed that just over a year ago I didn’t even know she existed. In addition, when I finally did meet Bootsie, I simply thought of her as a cat who would safely live her life outdoors thanks to TNR. Now this gray-haired cat has not only been living inside with our family for almost eight months, but she’s become the most affectionate of our pets.

AND ALL THE REST

From the stories I hear from other TNR caretakers, I have no doubt that for every feral cat that has overcome its wild nature and learned to be a house cat, there are many others that can’t make that adjustment. Some are just too wild. Others do not get enough regular exposure to loving caretakers. For those feral cats to have a chance at a long and healthy life, the best place for them is in a TNR community.

No matter whether the feral cats remain outside or eventually find a forever home inside, my goal in introducing you to a few of them is to help you see past the debate. When thinking of how best to solve the problem of 40 million cats, we need to remember that each cat is an individual and each individual is important. Take a step today to help just one. For that one you do help, the difference might be their life.

Many thanks to Dick and Olga, who provided daily attention and affection to Bootsie’s feral colony and no doubt were instrumental in teaching Bootsie to be comfortable and even loving with people. Also, thanks to Husker Cats, who first introduced me to TNR and to Bootsie. I’m so blessed to have Bootsie in my life.

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat HouseHusker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

How Universities and Prisons Help Cats

Amid the students, professors, and college administrators, there are other residents on campus—feral cats. You may not even notice them at first. They typically hide during the day and come out at night, and they are generally leery of humans.

Alley Cats Allies

Great Meadow Correctional Facility has become home to four unlikely inmates. Some might call them cute and cuddly. A litter of tan kittens found its way into the bowels of the prison a few months ago and since then, into the hearts of some of the staff and inmates.

PostStar

While searching for positive Trap Neuter Release stories, I frequently came across examples within two very different type of institutions: universities and prisons. I wondered, why would feral cat colonies be found at either of these institutions, and why these institutions care about feral cats?

A university student’s research paper entitled TNR and Campus Cat Organizations described to campuses as “hotspots for feral cats”. Why? One reason often given by university TNR programs is that students and campus neighbors don’t have their cats fixed, which then results in litters of kittens. Another common explanation is that campuses are apparently viewed as an ideal dumping ground for an unwanted cat. Finally, a reason given in the aforementioned research paper is that wild cats will congregate where food and shelter are available. TNR and Campus Cat Organizations notes that “Dumpsters and crawl space under buildings alone attract cats.”

Stanford University is regularly cited as being a model for all other universities, including that of our own University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who embrace TNR. In January 1989, reports a news release from the Stanford University Service, Stanford announced that it planned it would be taking steps to deal with an unmanageably large feral cat population on campus. After plans were announced to trap as many as 1,500 cats and ship them to humane societies where they would likely be euthanized, “a group of volunteers approached university officials with a proposal to humanely trap the cats and have them spayed, neutered, vaccinated and tagged so that they could remain alive on campus.”

This group formed the highly successful The Cat Network. On the fifth anniversary of The Cat Network the number of feral cats had dropped to a mere 300, while on the tenth anniversary the numbers had declined to just 150. In addition, one of the network’s founders is quoted in 1999 by the Stanford University Press as saying, “Litters are a thing of the past at Stanford since the current cat population is spayed and neutered. We really don’t have kittens born at the university anymore.” In 2012, Stanford’s Daily Post reported that another of the network’s founders estimated the cat population to be as low as two dozen. In addition, a volunteer observed, “One thing people comment on when they look at the Stanford Cat Network webpage is that all the cats look really healthy. People expect feral cats to be all skinny, scrawny and unhealthy-looking but that’s exactly what we try to avoid.”

According to TNR and Campus Cat Organizations, other universities who followed Stanford’s lead have also seen success. To name a few:

  • Southern Methodist University’s feral cat population went from 62 cats to 50 in four years
  • California Polytechnic State University’s feral cat population went from over 400 cats to 60 cats in nine years, and its adoption program has found homes for 450 cats and kittens
  • University of Texas’s feral cat population went from over 200 cats to 15 cats in fifteen years, and no new litters of kittens have been born in ten years

As part of my own research, I also found that Saint Mary’s University practices TNR and reports success too. Numbers started at about 120 and dropped to 60 after five years.

In contrast to the successes of TNR, City of Berkeley Animal Shelter cites the failure of trapping and removing at Georgetown. Officials took the feral cats to the local animal control agency where the cats were killed. In under six months, 10 new unaltered cats and 20 kittens appeared on the campus, leaving Georgetown with an ongoing problem of cat overpopulation.

Kudos aside, the above numbers could suggest that spay/neuter efforts alone were responsible for the success of reducing the numbers of cats on campus. However, an issue that all universities face is that new cats will appear each year, left behind by students. The solution? Many universities will place in foster homes and later put up for adoption those cats which are recognized as non-feral. They also recommend animal welfare education.

With an estimated 30 to 40 million cats being homeless, both TNR and adoption are needed to curb our pet overpopulation crisis, as prisons have found. Global Animal contends that TNR has become mainstream. It states that more than 430 municipalities nationwide, along with numerous prisons (ten of which are specifically named) have started TNR programs. Regards the latter, Global Animal states, “Inmates are often the cats’ primary caregivers and their biggest supporters, constantly advocating for the cats, with whom they form deep bonds.”

One of the most recent examples of a successful prison TNR program is the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York.  According to PostStar, the feral cats wandered from a nearby farm to the prison. Not only is TNR being used to manage the cat colony’s population, but ten cats have been adopted by employees and their extended families.

When I first started my series on cat overpopulation, I said that there were at least three ways the average pet owner could help.

  • Ensure your cat is spayed/neutered
  • Keep your domesticated cat indoors
  • Support Trap Neuter Release

In reality, other ways exist too. Some I have discussed in earlier posts such as fostering and adopting. Others, such as educating yourself, you’re doing simply by reading these articles. There may even be more ways. What’s clear to me is there isn’t just one single way; instead we need passionate people and creative individuals to continue to work together find a mix of ways that will help our feline friends have the best lives possible. Will you be part of that solution?

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

UNIVERSITIES

Cat Network Celebrates Five Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Network Marks Ten Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Tales, Stanford Daily

Stanford Cat Network

TNR and Campus Cats

PRISONS

How Prisons Are Keeping Cats of Death Row

Kittens Break into Prison

How Disneyland & Google Help Cats

Maybe the world will take the lead of Walt Disney and his feral cats of Disneyland.

–Al Hunter, Weekly View, The Feral Cats of Disneyland

Disneyland does TNR! This is the news my husband gave me earlier this year. Ever since I started volunteering for Husker Cats, a volunteer group “working to ensure high-quality life for cats living in feral colonies on campus”, my husband and I have been interested in the topic of Trap-Neuter-Release programs. Disneyland being a well-established entertainment park, the fact they embrace their feral cat colony speaks volumes.

When did feral cats first appear at Disneyland? According to Disneyland Cats, the cats have been around since the California them parked opened in 1955. The basic gist of the story is that as a new attraction was being considered, planners made two discoveries: scores of feral cats, and an infestation of fleas.

To make way for the new attraction, something needed to be done about the cats: Weekly View reports that the cats were considered to be a bit of a nuisance and even a possible threat to the guests. And yet Disneyland Cats suggests that the traditional method of trap and kill would not have been well-received by patrons. Back then, Trap-Neuter-Release wasn’t an established practice, and so the chosen solution was to adopt out all the cats.

Ultimately, however, a more permanent and long-term solution was needed. It was likely that cats throughout the park. In addition, new feral cats were arriving at the park every day, drawn there by the abundant food scraps left behind by park guests and by rodents seeking the same food scraps. Adopting out the cats simply could not keep up with the influx of cats.

The park decided to put the cats to work as ratters. Being feral, and so shy and reclusive by nature, the cats stayed hidden and out of the way during the day when patrons swarmed the park. Then at night, when these colonies of cats were free to roam the grounds unobserved, they would act as natural exterminators. (More than one article points out the irony of a park known for its cartoon rodent mascot now finding itself at war with the real thing. ) “We view them as partners. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship with them,” explains Gina Mayberry, who oversees the Circle D Ranch where Disneyland’s animals are housed, to Alley Cats Allies.

For many years, Disneyland let nature take its course. It embraced their feral cats as allies, but did not actively manage their population. So when did TNR first get started at Disneyland? Disneyland Cats doesn’t specify a date, but just says that the relationship established between the company and the cats “still operates in basically the same fashion today”. Some articles say Disneyland introduced TNR in 2001, others say 2007. There is also no consensus about the program’s catalyst: maybe it was former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker, or maybe it was animal welfare volunteer groups, or maybe the park took it upon themselves. In any case, according to Disneyland Cats, the TNR program is now in place: the cats are all spayed or neutered, feeding stations are located throughout the park “where the cats [can] get their fill when they [can’t] subsist on hunting alone,” and medical treatment is provided when needed.

Various articles estimate that the Disneyland colony numbers about 200 cats. Although visitors aren’t encouraged to get close to and/or feed the cats, Disneyland Cats does note that some of the feeding station locations where guests are most likely to spot a cat include: the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Disneyland, Taste Pilot’s Grill at DCA, White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian, the Rose Court Garden at the Disneyland Hotel, and in the ditch that runs parallel to the path for the Mickey and Friends Tram. Also, you can see photos of them here: Disneyland Cats Will Make You Purr. Apparently, if any cats do start getting overly comfortable with humans, they are found forever homes with cast members.

Disneyland Resort’s TNR program proves that large, high-profile organizations and feral cat colonies can not only peacefully share the same property, but also strike up a mutually beneficial relationship that improves conditions for both parties.

–Alley Cat Allies, TNR At Work

Another large company that embraces TNR is Google. On the Gcat Rescue site, the reason given for its TNR program is increased sightings of cats, and particularly kittens, drew their attention. Volunteers trap regularly throughout the year when the Humane Society of Silicon Valley (HSSV) holds their low cost clinics, as well as anytime the group is aware of new cats on the campus. To date, the group has rescued, adopted, or placed almost 150 cats.

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

DISNEY

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.