Who cares about cats? Canadians that's who! In fact, cats are more popular than dogs with ownership on the incline while dog ownership is declining. In addition to having cats in our homes we love to watch cats -- cats who are angst ridden , cats who like boxes, cats who are political, and cats who are grumpy. With all of this attention on cats, one might assume that cats in Canada would have it pretty good. However, as much as we "enjoy" cats, we just care don't care for them in the same way that we care for dogs.
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) launched a ground-breaking report "Cats in Canada -- A Comprehensive Report on the Cat Overpopulation Crisis" this week to help us understand the negative consequences of cat overpopulation including homelessness, overburdened shelters, and euthanasia. We found that shelters across the country are dangerously over or at capacity to care for cats and their resources are strained. In fact twice as many cats are surrendered to shelters than dogs! Meanwhile, shelters are doing everything they can to provide space for all of the unwanted, undesirable and abandoned cats. However, as soon as a space is vacated it is filled by another cat, or a pregnant cat about to give birth. The number of cats who need homes outstrips the number of homes that are available -- and the cat population growth rate is accelerating. If large-scale, targeted action is not taken, this cat overpopulation problem will only worsen.
The research shows the ways in which Canadians care differently for cats than for dogs. Cats are less likely than dogs to receive veterinary care, to have permanent identification, to be adopted to a new family if lost or abandoned, or to be reunited with their owner. In fact less than 1 per cent of cats brought into shelters are reunited with their owners compared to 30 per cent of dogs. The most tragic statistic is that less than half of cats admitted to shelters will find their forever home. If we could channel our love and enjoyment of cats into responsible guardianship of them, we wouldn't have an overpopulation problem.
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The most viable long-term solution to end cat overpopulation is spaying and neutering of cats. If cats were routinely sterilized shelters wouldn't need to euthanize animals. It's really that simple. Responses to the National Market survey of Canadians found that at least 20 per cent of Canadians still aren't spaying and neutering their animals. Considering that there are 10.2-million owned cats in Canada that means that there more than 2-million owned cats that are unaltered across the country! And when you realize that cats can have two to three litters a years with five to six kittens per litter, this is an enormous number of unwanted animals.
Imagine if everyone chose the adoption option? Cats would not be languishing in shelters, becoming ill from the stress of overcrowding. When doing the research we found that Canadians are more likely to acquire a "free" cat from a friend, relative, as a give-away, from their own pet's offspring or take in a stray than they are to adopt a cat from a humane society, SPCA or a rescue group. Of course many of these "free" animals are available because people aren't spaying and neutering in the first place. One way that the CFHS is helping to get more cats into homes by being a proud supporter of the IAMS Home 4 the Holidays program which seeking to help animals in shelters find forever homes over the holidays.
Sterilizing and adopting are two simple solutions that everyone can choose. In the grander scheme there is no single stakeholder or group responsible for the cat overpopulation problem, or finding the solution -- it is truly a community problem that requires a community effort to resolve. To end cat overpopulation the CFHS has identified many things that need to happen including more accessible and affordable spay/neuter surgeries, greater education about the plight of cats, adequate support for strategies that require enforcement (such as by-laws) and that overall, owners must take more responsibility for their pets.
In the Cats in Canada report you can read about some of the innovative initiatives that groups from across the country are doing to change shelter management, raise awareness, increase spay/neuter rates and help cats. There may be a solution that will work in your community.
Follow Barbara Cartwright on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CFHS