Cats are in crisis. Although they outnumber dogs in our homes, cats are more often neglected and more often relinquished to shelters. In Washington and across the nation, cats are euthanized twice as often as dogs.
So why is the most popular pet in America treated like a second-class pet citizen?
Staff and volunteers at animal shelters will tell you that many cats who end up stray were obviously cared for by someone. But of the free-roaming, stray cats who make it safely to a shelter away from cars, predators and numerous other hazards, a meager 2 to 3 percent are reclaimed by their guardians, compared with approximately 30 percent of dogs. Why is it that when cats go missing, people often assume the cat has “run away,” “gone off to die,” or “will come back in a few days?”
Local laws fail at protecting cats the same way they do dogs. In most jurisdictions free-roaming cats won’t be picked up by animal control and brought to a shelter, and many cities don’t require owned cats to be licensed, which would enable them to be easily reunited with their families.
Some say that a loose dog is more of a public nuisance than a loose cat. Tell that to the gardener who finds cat feces in her flower bed, or to the driver who swerves off the road to avoid a darting cat, not to mention wild birds who become victims to cats’ instinctual hunting. (On average, 13 percent of the wild animal patients who enter PAWS Wildlife Center each year have been injured by cats.)
Others will say it’s cruel to keep cats indoors, that they need to roam. But isn’t it neglectful to allow them to be run down by cars, to be exposed to life-threatening diseases, or to fall prey to hungry wildlife?
But here’s the good news — there are simple solutions to save thousands of lives.
Get a collar with identification tag and a microchip for your cat. These are your pet’s ticket home if he becomes lost. A microchip is a form of permanent identification about the size of a grain of rice that is permanently inserted under the skin of an animal. It contains a barcode that special scanners detect. All veterinary clinics, shelters and animal control officers have these scanners. The unique number is linked to the guardian’s contact information. If your cat is found, a quick scan will reveal to whom she belongs and, in short order, you and your cat can be reunited.
Keep your cat indoors with plenty of toys and window perches. Or if you must let her out, make sure she stays safely on your property. Supervise your cat while outside, build your cat an outdoor play enclosure, or walk your cat on a specially designed harness and leash. PAWS can provide you with numerous ideas, as well as tips for training your cat to walk on leash.
Spay and neuter, spay and neuter, spay and neuter! Citizens continue to find unwanted and unplanned litters of kittens under porches and decks. One of the major reasons so many cats are euthanized is because there are not enough homes for them. A female cat can get pregnant as young as five months old, and have up to three litters a year. The one-time surgery needed to “fix” your cat can also prevent certain diseases and improve many behaviors. There are several low-cost options for spaying and neutering in the region for people who can’t afford it. Visit PAWS’ Web site (paws.org) for a list of low-cost and free clinics.
These simple steps — microchipping, keeping cats indoors and spaying or neutering — will help lift our feline friends out of this crisis. Animal groups are working hard to save cats’ lives, but we can’t do it alone. Please, join us in this crusade.
Kay Joubert is companion animal services director at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood.