By Dawn Callari
We’ve all heard it – “don’t feed stray cats or they’ll hang around forever”. It’s an interesting and rather disturbing testimony to the lack of compassion and the capacity for cruelty a seemingly endless stream of people embraces. People who have no problem with cats who were once owned by humans and probably lived in homes, slept on couches, and played with children at some point in their lives being forced to wander in search of shelter and food. For reasons that can never be justified they are shut out of their homes, cast out of cars on roadsides, abandoned in the countryside, and left confused, hungry, and many times unable to fend for themselves. Some suffer unspeakable cruelty at the hands of people who simply don’t want to be bothered with them. Many people seem to be under the false impression that domestic cats can take care of themselves if cast out of their homes. It is true? It absolutely is not.
What happens to these cats? If they are really lucky they will soon wander into the life of a caring person who will understand that they need human intervention to survive. That is reality for some, but not most abandoned cats. Many of them die slow and painful deaths due to starvation. Most of them were not with owners responsible enough to spay or neuter them, so if they manage to find enough food to survive nature takes over and they start to breed. Cats can have 3 litters in a year’s time. What happens to the kittens? If they survive they end up wild since they weren’t with humans in their early days. They suffer from illness, parasite infestation, and sometimes die of starvation, hypothermia or are killed by predators.
Some people will put out food for stray cats that will meet their basic needs, but again don’t spay or neuter the animals and will soon experience a population explosion that only exacerbates the problem of masses of stray cats that have nowhere to go. Many times people are overwhelmed by the increasing number of animals and cannot continue to feed and shelter them, and sadly many are then told to stop feeding the cats so they will “go away”. They go away, all right. They die. I guess some people think the end justifies the means.
Many people have found that getting stray cats into shelters can be a difficult project. With the number of homeless cats and kittens in the community and the disturbing number of kittens entering the world every year, “no kill” shelters fill to capacity and cannot take in more cats because they don’t resort to euthanasia due to lack of space. Kindhearted people don’t want to see cats end up in shelters that will “put them to sleep” so they close their eyes, hope for the best, and apologetically tell the cats they just can’t help them. The cats continue to suffer, starve, and freeze to death as they get emaciated in the winter and can’t find shelter. Is that kinder than euthanasia? Dying painfully over a course of weeks or months instead of having it over with in a few minutes?
It’s time for our community to have a better answer for these animals. This is a problem caused by people, and it needs to be repaired by people. Please be a part of the solution. Don’t take on a pet if you can’t afford to care for it and get it spayed or neutered. Don’t own a pet if you aren’t serious about keeping it for the duration of its life. If you have suddenly decided that you no longer want your pet, please don’t be so irresponsible as to think that it is appropriate to dump it at someone’s farm, or take it for a long drive to the country so you can abandon it. I won’t even get into how many people “take care of the problem themselves” and end the animals’ lives violently.
There are many low cost spay and neuter clinics in our area that help to curb the cat overpopulation problem, so if you have a cat that needs to be sterilized and paying for that procedure is an issue call your local animal shelter for details. There are also programs available for spaying and neutering feral (wild) cats for people who are willing to feed and shelter the animals.
Do what you can for homeless cats. The problem started with people who no longer wanted them and sent them off to try to survive on their own. Consider donating funds to an animal shelter to help defray the ever-increasing cost of caring for hundreds of abandoned animals while they try to find responsible people to take them into their homes. If you have room in your home please fill it with the warmth and love of a pet that will be grateful for your kindness. And please, the next time someone tells you not to feed a stray cat, find a better answer that will not leave the animal to suffer. Too many people have come to a place of complacency and want to believe that the problem of homeless cats will never be solved, thus exonerating themselves from any guilt they may feel for ignoring the problem. It can be fixed if the humans who share the world with cats can work together on a solution.