09 July 2016

WELFARE - Where are all the Cats?

An encouraging trend for cat lovers indicates that feline populations in shelters have been on the general decline in recent years.

While the trend is apparent in areas in both Canada and the U.S., shelters continue to report there is far more work to be done and some areas continue to face burgeoning cat populations – including the Calgary Humane Society (CHS) in Calgary, Alberta.

“The economy is hitting everybody hard, but in Alberta we are right in that oil and gas bubble where there have been massive layoffs and many people forced to downsize or move (out of province) to find work,” explained Sage Pullen McIntosh, spokesperson for the CHS.

The shelter ran an adoption campaign at the end of June, waiving fees for cats older than seven months to help free up space in their overcrowded cat corridors.

While Pullen McIntosh said that their intake was up 185 cats by June 28 of 2016, compared to intake at the same time in 2015, these numbers were not impacted by the early June Ft. MacMurray wildfire dubbed as ‘The Beast’; the shelter did provide emergency boarding for animals from the northern community hard hit by the raging fire, but has since reunited all animals but one cat with their owners.

From Jan. 1-June 28, 2016, the CHS has admitted 2,770 animals, of which 1690 were cats.

Pullen-McIntosh said the information they have gathered from people who surrender their pets (although stray and abandoned cat intake numbers have also risen) indicate job loss, moving and other effects of a downturn in the economy over the last year or so have been the biggest reasons for giving up their pet.

In other areas, however, the combination of improved adoption programs, public education and prevention campaigns and responsible pet ownership seem to be bringing overall shelter cat numbers down and adoptions up.

“We have definitely seen a steady decrease of cat populations in our shelters over the last few years… But overall reduction really isn’t that drastic. We still have much work to do,” said Mary Lou Leiher, who works as a program manager for Toronto Animal Services and is also the president of the Association of Animal Shelter Administrators of Ontario (AASAO).

The AASAO is a unique organization that is an ‘affiliation of professionals committed to excellence in the management and operation of animal care, control and welfare organizations’.

Leiher credits the general reduction from AASAO member shelters, including the City of Toronto and the Ottawa Humane Society, to a number of factors, such as ongoing public education campaigns; successful prevention programs such as the City of Toronto’s CHIP truck for microchipping, licensing and rabies and the SNYP truck for mobile spaying/neutering programs; improved adoption programs through shelters; and the trendiness of choosing to adopt rather than buy from a breeder.

“Shelters have also changed their adoption practices. We understand it’s better to educate people rather than turn them down…people will just go somewhere else if you won’t work with them and then you’ve lost that connection,” explained Leiher.
“If you don’t like the answer, change the conversation.”

These stats of increased adoptions and lowered intake rates of shelter cats are further evidenced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

According to Dr. Emily Weiss, this notion of ‘changing the conversation’ and working with families and individuals looking to adopt pets, rather than turning away people who may otherwise look to less favourable solutions to obtain a pet (puppy mills) has been key to the overall decrease in areas such as New England.

Weiss made note of the American Pet Product Association’s (APPA) pet owners survey where the data shows some significant changes in where people obtain their cats today compared to ten years ago.

By Lindsay Seewalt
Lindsay is an experienced journalist and mother of three whose heart and home is always open to a four-legged friend. With her Corgi, Angie, as household editor-in-chief, Lindsay gives back to the animal planet through the written word on anything and all ado about pets. She is passionate about topics regarding animal welfare and responsible pet ownership, which she aims to instill in both her readers and children to be compassionate animal lovers who are conscious and considerate that furry friends around the globe deserve a voice.

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