David Chircop Herald Writer
EVERETT — They’re cute, cuddly and in desperate need of homes.
Kitten season, which can vary each year depending on the weather, is now in full swing in Snohomish County.
The yearly surge of strays and unwanted pets is causing a crowding problem at the Everett Animal Shelter.
Simply put, the state’s fourth largest animal shelter has more cats than it can hold or find homes for.
That shortage each year turns to death sentences for hundreds of adult cats. They’re harder to find homes for than kittens. Black cats are the hardest to place.
About 400 “adoptable” cats, those not too sick or aggressive to place, were killed last year to make space at the city-run animal shelter in Everett.
The shelter is on pace this year to put down fewer cats, but the numbers are still unacceptable, say shelter workers and volunteers who try to find friendly homes for the felines.
“Cats really get the short end of the stick,” said Hilary Anne Hager, activities coordinator for the Everett Animal Shelter.
Things have improved at the Everett shelter during the past few years.
In 2007, fewer animals were euthanized there than in any of the previous 25 years. Even fewer are expected to be euthanized this year.
Shelter officials attribute the improved save rate to an uptick in outreach, help from animal rescue groups and participation in the shelter’s foster home program.
Still, the same problem persists: too many cats, not enough homes.
The shelter now has more than 200 kittens and cats available for adoption.
Unlike some local private shelters that can restrict the number of animals they take in, Everett Animal Shelter — which contracts with Snohomish County and nine cities — can’t close its doors when it’s full.
Many of the cats it takes in were abandoned or they were not well cared for before being brought in.
They are often stressed-out and susceptible to colds, which can spread fast in the tight quarters of an animal shelter.
About half of the kittens in the shelter have upper respiratory infections.
“Young animals are very, very delicate,” said Bud Wessman, the shelter’s director.
At the Lynnwood shelter Progressive Animal Welfare Society about 250 cats and kittens are awaiting adoption, including pets staying in foster homes.
Kay Joubert, director of companion animal services for PAWS, said people have few excuses for not having their cats spayed or neutered.
Several spay and neuter clinics offer services for low-income pet owners in the Puget Sound area.
PAWS spays and neuters every cat adopted from its shelter, even those as young at 8 weeks old.
It also recommends that people have their pets altered as soon as possible. Female cats can get pregnant when they are as young as 5 months old.
“The message still needs to be out there that cats need to be treated more like dogs,” Joubert said. “They can’t just roam around and get pregnant and impregnate others.”
Hager, with Everett Animal Shelter, said much of the blame rests with irresponsible pet owners, who don’t plan ahead.
A lot of people have to give up their pets because they move to a place that doesn’t accept cats or they can’t afford veterinary bills.
While Hager said she sympathizes with some of the hard cases, she said people ought to know that they can expect to spend more than $300 a year per pet on veterinary costs, in addition to pet food and other items.
“Unless we prevent the need for sheltering, we can go on like this until the cows come home,” she said.
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or email@example.com.