Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Sterilize Pet [Cats] First"

In the April 2010 issue of Animal People, Merritt Clifton wrote an interesting and inspiring editorial titled “How To Introduce Neuter/Return & Make It Work”. Much to our surprise -- he stresses the importance of sterilizing pets first. It took us almost ten years of facilitating the spay/neuter of cats in both TNR colonies and lower-income homes to reach this conclusion – and we’ve never seen any print reference to it before. In his editorial, Clifton points out that:

"Roaming pet cats have more than enough reproductive capacity to quickly replace themselves and the entire feral cat population: and because the roaming pet cats may be making the greatest contribution to cat population growth, the program (TNR) can accomplish more, faster by focusing on sterilizing the roaming pet cats  than by starting out trapping ferals. Trapping ferals should be the second phase of the program, begun after the sterilization rate among the roaming pet cats is raised to 70%-plus.”

Let no one question for an instant the importance of getting all cats fixed – feral and friendly – living indoors and out. But the question is, "Where can the most good be done with the limited financial resources available to provide free spay/neuter help?" And the answer has to be with the pet cats – that because they are not sterilized – are either given a wide berth to live outdoors (and reproduce) – or are abandoned because of their unsterilized-cat behaviors – yowling, fighting, spraying and kittening -- are impossible to live indoors with for any extended amount of time.

One has to wonder why the focus of limiting cat populations started with feral cat colonies instead of assisting lower-income pet cats in the first place. It’s commonly accepted that these cats are the primary source of new feral colonies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut off the source instead of dealing with the aftermath ?  Since they’re companion cats– they’re easier to sterilize – you don’t have to live trap them --  and they already have in-place caregivers to provide their life care – once they're fixed.

I think two factors determined the present TNR focus:  (1) Alley Cat Allies highly effective (and important) campaign to provide a humane alternative to shelter euthanasia for outdoor-living cats, and (2) the American Puritan ethic that demonizes lower-income pet guardians as irresponsible for not fixing their cats --ignoring the fact they don't have the money to do so  -- over offering a community hand to get their cats fixed.   Sadly, this is reminiscent of cutting off your nose to spite your face!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Onyx -- A Geriatric Cat With Curious Symptoms

For a 17-year old, Onyx has stayed pretty healthy – at least up until this year.

In February, Onyx started breathing rapid shallow breaths averaging about twice the normal rate. His blood work showed early kidney disease – which is to be expected for cats in his age group – and a slightly high thyroid value– also not atypical. We took chest x-rays and found a few small “donuts” in his lung area and so we tried treating the breathing problem as asthma – but he didn’t respond to the medications.

Then, during a recheck a few weeks ago, we noticed blood spots in his eyes and measured his blood pressure – sure enough it was high at 190 -- and so we started him on medicine to lower it  -- which it did – to 145 – but the spots are still in his eyes and his pupils stay large all the time. If this was caused by hypertension, lowering his blood pressure should have helped but maybe it’ll take more time. Fortunately his vision seems okay – as we've learned last year with other TLC cats – uncontrolled hypertension can lead to blindness.

Now we're trying thyroid medications and they may help -- even though he’s only slightly hyperthyroid. If not, we’re still left with a few other causes – none of them good. Symptoms like Onyx has could be caused by cancer, dry FIP, extreme fungal infection or heartworm. Of these, heartworm could be the most likely. Why? Because last summer he tested positive for heartworm exposure on a routine blood test.
It takes awhile for heartworms to grow so the timing is right. We tested for adult heartworms a few weeks ago and it was negative but the test only works when there are at least 2 female heartworms –  one female or males don’t show up. Even if it is heartworm, there’s little we can do to treat it.  The poison that kills the heartworms is so strong it can also kill cats so it's not safe. And, since Onyx doesn’t seem to be in distress, he may be okay – we just don’t know. We worry about his symptoms and hope they don’t get any worse. Having a known diagnosis is always preferable – but as we’re seeing with Onyx – it’s not always possible.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cat Spay of Santa Fe Issues Its First Vouchers

We’re already getting activity in our Santa Fe cat spay/neuter program, issuing 23 free vouchers to 3 applicants – not bad for our first week. Over the course of the year, we’d like to fix about 1,000 cats and kittens so seeing this level of initial activity is promising. Here’s where they came from:

Although our formal program is limited to 3 cats per lower-income household (families making under $40,000 per year), we can help with the TNR (trap-neuter-return) of feral cat colonies when it’s appropriate. We had a request from Felines & Friends to fund their TNR efforts at a local Senior Community and we jumped at the opportunity to help -- especially when we learned that the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society had partnered with them to do the surgeries. They estimate the colony size at 20 cats, and so far they’ve trapped and fixed 9 of them – 8 of which are female.

Many senior communities have great outdoor settings for cat colonies and this one is no exception. The cats provide daily entertainment for the residents who enjoy feeding and watching them. Since many elderly people are reluctant to have their own pet cats – fearing they won’t live long enough to provide life care – or live in communities that prohibit them from having pets altogether -- naturally-occurring outdoor cats provide much of the same benefits for them that pets would and the cats benefit from being fed and having a sheltered, quiet area to live in.

Two other individuals applied for vouchers through our publicized program: One for two 9-month old cats (1 male and 1 female) and the other for a 6-month old female kitten. By providing free vouchers for these cats, we hope to increase the odds they’ll keep their homes forever -- while at the same time preventing more kittens from being born. Since all three of cats are old enough to reproduce, fixing them quickly is paramount – especially in the home with one female and one male. People often don’t realize how young kittens are (16 weeks) when they mature – and how soon they can have litters.

We look forward to seeing what the coming work brings but know it’ll take a little while for us to develop a regular flow of new applications.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

“Do You Have Any Room For Cats and/or Kittens? We have had 3 stray cats give birth to 17 kittens in our garage and around our home. Can you help with this problem?”

Here we go again. On yesterday’s local news, one of Albuquerque’s animal control officers reported their shelter's burgeoning with stray cats and kittens and they can’t take any more in until the numbers drop – and this is only April – just the onset of “kitten season”.

So if Albuquerque Animal Control is closed to new cat admissions, what do they recommend as the alternative? Leave adult outdoor cats where they are but work with your local spay/neuter programs to get them fixed. They point out that cats often have a better chance of survival living outdoors than at at a crowded animal control shelter – and that’s true any time of year not just during kitten season. They also recommend leaving newborns with their mothers – they die at shelters too – when a foster home isn’t readily available.  (If you do want to rescue kittens – and when possible that’s preferable to letting them grow up feral -- it’s best to wait until their 4 weeks old. But rescue them only if you (or someone you know) has 3-4 weeks to spend teaching them how to be pet cats and networking to place them in good indoor homes. Our Feral Colony Handbook gives a good overview of the process in Appendix C.)

Not too long ago we may have heard a distinctly different PSA – reporting the same event – an overcrowded shelter overflowing with cats and kittens -- but blaming “irresponsible pet owners who don’t fix their cats” for the problem. And the shelters would have responded differently as well. Instead of suggesting leaving stray cats outdoors and getting them fixed, they would have euthanized them as excess. We have Alley Cat Allies to thank for this sea change in shelter behavior -- their many years of advocating for TNR (trap-neuter-return of stray and feral cats) is finally paying off – replacing shelter euthanasia with sterilization of all cats – living indoors and out.

So when someone asks us to help with 17 cats – 14 of which are kittens -- our heart sinks. All too often people don’t see the urgency of fixing cats until after kittens are born -- when they’re overwhelmed by the numbers. Then it’s too late.  The simple task of fixing and caring for 3 adult cats becomes the daunting task of also socializing and placing 14 kittens.

It’s okay to feed outdoor cats – but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by them. Take charge of the situation and fix the cats before they reproduce. And, if you live in our community, we’d like to help with our Cat Spay of Santa Fe program. It’s open to cat caregivers with family incomes under $40,000 per year. We can provide up to 3 free spay/neuter vouchers for the cats in your care – and we don’t care if they live indoors or out so long as they have a permanent home with you.  Visit our web site for details.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New York Joins California and Tennessee In Proposing Animal Abuser Registries

The landscape of animal protection laws is changing. Twenty years ago, only 4 states had felony laws for animal abuse – now 46 do. But it doesn’t stop there. During the same time period, the number of states banning animal abusers from having -- or being near -- pets has at least doubled to 27. And just over the last three years, states have begun enacting laws requiring animal control officers and social workers to share information on homes where domestic or animal abuse is found.

But this year, legislatures in New York, Tennessee and California have gone even further. They’ve introduced bills to establish state-wide animal abuser registries – similar to those used to alert communities of resident sex offenders. The registries would include anyone convicted of an animal cruelty felony -- including the malicious and intentional maiming, mutilation, torture, wounding or killing of a living animal – as well as animal hoarders and operators of animal-fighting rings. Such persons would have to register online or with the police providing a current photo and detailed personal information.

Having access to animal abuser data bases would be a tremendous boon to shelters and rescues that do pet adoptions– enabling them to more-effectively screen for known abusers. But keeping tabs on known animal abusers may benefit the community overall. FBI profilers have long considered animal abuse as one of the primary early indicators of persons capable of violent behavior toward people – and there’s a clear connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. . A recent study found that in homes where children are physically abused, 88% of the time their pets are also. Sadly many home abusers – knowing the special love between the family and their pets -- will torment the pets as a way of inflicting pain on their family.

Would animal abuser directories be effective? Potentially. But to truly work, the courts would have to take animal abuse more seriously and provide the felony convictions necessary to get the abusers eligible for a registry. With the exception of animal fighting rings which enjoy a high rate of conviction, pet animal abuse is often punished with lesser offenses if at all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How Can I Feed Feral Cats In The Daytime If I Only See Them At Night?

“I have a few stray or feral cats that come in but only at night and I have a shed set up for them. One comes in and eats but only late at night and the others come in but don’t stay very long. How do I train them to eat in the day if I never see them in the daytime?”

That’s an interesting question. A few different things may be going on here. First of all, feral cats (as well as lost-or-abandoned companion cats who revert to feral behaviors) are naturally nocturnal– the same as most other wildlife. They’re most active at dusk and dawn maintaining a low profile during daylight when people (who they find scary) are outdoors.

The goal of feral cat management is to train the cats to trust you and identify themselves so you know how many cats are in the colony. This way, when you begin trapping them to spay and neuter, you’ll be able to fix the entire colony. Otherwise, you only see (and will be able to fix) a layer of cats – those that are least feral or more limited in activity such as pregnant or nursing mom cats. TNR is only effective when the entire colony is sterilized.

Establishing a regimented daytime meal-feeding routine is key to management. Just pick a regular time that’s daylight year-round and convenient to you – morning, afternoon and/or early evening – and put food out for them to eat. Do this at the same place and time every day. When you’re unavailable, make sure you have a substitute because consistency is critical to training the cats.

While the food is out, position yourself far enough away that the cats aren’t scared to come over and eat, but close enough that you can observe the cats so you can learn who’s in the colony -- and so the cats begin identifying you with food. Eventually, many of the cats will bond with you and greet you when you come. This is not socialization but habituation – they learn not to be afraid of you because when they see you, good things happen – i.e., they eat. ( This is a special exclusion for you and the cats will still be fearful of other people.) When the cats are done eating and walk away from the food, remove any leftovers to ensure the most timid colony members don’t wait until you leave to eat and to prevent other wildlife from eating – they may be a hazard to the cats and will increase the cost of colony care.

If, within a week or two, the cats don’t adapt to your daytime feeding routine, it may be that you’re time-sharing the colony with another caregiver and they have another food source. Cats have pretty large territories – especially male cats – and your shed may be one way-station they visit as opposed to their primary home base. If that’s the case, you may want to discontinue feeding them altogether and close off your shed. Or, you might try checking with neighbors to find out who the other caregiver(s) are so you can coordinate feeding and sterilizing the colony. Sharing the colony management ensures consistency and longevity for the cats.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mama Cat's Diabetes Takes A Vacation

When teenaged cats contract chronic illness (kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and/or diabetes) – and almost all of them do -- you can be pretty sure they’ll need veterinary treatments for the rest of their lives – pills, injections, special diets and even SQ fluids. And once they’re on a treatment plan, they’ll also need more frequent vet visits for exams and lab work to ensure the medications are doing their job and not causing any unintended side effects.

It requires some commitment, but with today’s veterinary medicine, many cats can have a good quality of life for many years after the common diseases of old age take hold. And, while controlling these primary diseases, you often prevent other life-threatening diseases altogether – like hypertension and heart disease.

Yet at first, the very idea of medicating your cats is daunting. But once you get the hang of it -- and the cats know what’s expected of them -- you settle down and adjust to a new normal. And—by doing so – you’re rewarded with sharing an extended time with your cats – knowing that not only are they still with you, but that they’re more comfortable and vibrant than they would be otherwise

Every now and then a teenaged cat beats the odds and recovers from a chronic disease. Mama is one of those cats. Last year she was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after she unexplainably lost 3 pounds of weight. Her glucose levels were running about triple the normal rates (80-120), and so we started giving her insulin injections twice a day and checking her glucose at home periodically. As time progressed her 350’s dropped to 250’s and about a month ago she started reading consistently in the normal range. We’ve stopped giving her insulin altogether now, and only need to recheck her glucose a few times each month. So long as the test readings stay in the normal range, she’s no longer considered diabetic. We feed her a high protein diet and encourage her to eat wet food over dry food as much as possible to keep the carbohydrates low.

Why has Mama’s diabetes gone away – or at least gone into remission? We don’t know. Some cats are able to use supplemental insulin to jumpstart their own insulin production and that may have happened in Mama’s case. Or, it could be that her weight loss – dropping from 15 pounds to 11 pounds over the last year -- may have arrested her diabetes. Whatever the cause, we’re glad she no longer needs twice daily injections. And, she looks better too. At 17, Mama cat is doing great – better than we had thought she would this time last year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

So how did we get from Feral Cat Colony Assistance to Lower-Income Spay/Neuter?

“The focus of our Cat Spay of Santa Fe program is to keep the cats -- most at risk of being abandoned outdoors or relinquished to shelters -- in their original homes by providing free and convenient spay/neuter assistance.”
When we moved to Santa Fe from Ann Arbor we changed more than our address.  We also changed the focus of our cat spay/neuter programs -- from feral colony trap-neuter-return (TNR) to lower-income pet cat sterilization.  Not because we don't get the value -- or the urgency -- of reducing feral cat populations -- but simply because we do.  We just believe we can be more effective in complementing in-place TNR programs by doing pre-emptive TNR -- fixing lower-income pet cats to keep them from being abandoned outdoors and exacerbateing the feral cat problem.  Borrowing from our new web site's background information, here's why we made the shift:  

Today we think of cat spay/neuter in terms of population control — but routine cat sterilization actually began in the 1950s with the introduction of kitty litter — long before cat population was seen to be a problem. Kitty litter brought cats indoors — and behaviors that were perfectly acceptable outdoors (yowling, spraying, and fighting) became unacceptable indoors. As their caregivers started complaining, vets offered the "fix" of sterilization. Fixing the cats did in fact end most of the noxious behaviors — and cats became accepted (and cherished) indoor pets.

Today, some 85% of indoor pet cats have been fixed — but that leaves 15% unfixed — and in our experience (10 years, working with both pet and feral cat caregivers), these unfixed indoor pet cats are the ultimate source of most of the kittens born each year. While we support and applaud those conducting TNR programs, we've come to the conclusion that the colonies established under these programs cannot be stabilized until that 15% of unfixed pet cats is significantly reduced — and in our opinion, that can happen only when sterilization services are both free and convenient.

In managing our TNR program in Michigan (almost 2,000 colonies), we continually received requests to fix a few new cats that had just "shown up" (frequently pregnant). Initially we thought, well, that's okay — it's nice that these free-roaming cats found a colony to join. But when some of these cats started showing up in boxes — on doorsteps — and kept "showing up" year after year — the realization started to dawn that these cats weren't free-roaming — but abandoned.

Then, in managing our lower-income spay/neuter program (almost 2,000 participants) and talking with the families, we began to understand what was happening. Most people find the behaviors of unfixed pet cats (male or female) very annoying — and most know the solution is to fix them — but when it's stretching the budget just to buy food and litter, paying for sterilization (even with a low-cost program) isn't out of the question, but it is a significant burden that's very easy to put off. And then when that behavior happens to strike a famiy member as intolerable — or when the cat becomes pregnant and the family can't deal with the prospect of a litter (or more likely, yet another litter) — and the family sees their choices as taking the cat to an animal control shelter (where they believe the cat will be killed) or dropping them off in the country at a house that looks "cat friendly" — it's hard to see them as "bad" — or "careless" — or "irresponsible" — more just "human".

To reach this group, we'll need the cooperation of the veterinary clincs in our service area (Santa Fe County). Convenience (near-access to the service) is as important as cost — especially to the elderly and infirm. Of the 57 small-animal vet clinics in our service area in Michigan, over 50 worked with us — and we worked regularly with 30 because of their location and pricing.

So for the time being, we've chosen to focus on the pet cats of low income families - living indoors or out. If we can significantly reduce the abandonments and kitten births of these cats, TNR has a fighting chance of working. We encourage those doing TNR continue to do so — even those TNRing just a few feral cats hanging out around their porch, shed or barn. And we'll help to the extent we can.

Our current program limits us to 3 cats per family — but that's how most feral cat colonies start,  If you're feeding outdoor cats and fix them right away you'll prevent a full-blown colony from forming in the first place.  And if you do, we'll may be able to help with the cost.

Cat Spay of Santa Fe is open for business at

Easter marks -- not only the beginning of spring time -- but also the start of kitten season  -- the eternity from early spring to late fall when intact female cats go in and out of heat every two weeks -- even when they're nursing baby kittens.

Nationally, most intact female cats have at least two litters a year -- in warmer climates or years when winters are less frigid -- three litters are not uncommon.  And, when female kittens are born early in the breeding season, they'll be sexually mature in 16 weeks and contribute a litter of their own during the same kitten season they were born in.

Spring and summer are also the time of year when pet adoptions are at their highest.  Shelters are kept busy fostering and socializing baby kittens and adopting out as many as they can before they get too old to be selected.   Media announcements alert us to the shelters' plight of too many kittens and not enough homes -- and yet the irony is that the shelters only see the top layer of available kittens.  85% of all cat and kitten adoptions are done person-to-person not shelter-to-person.    And -- potentially -- an even higher number of kittens don't make it into adoption statistics at all -- they simply are born and continue to live -- not as companion pets but wildlife -- in feral colonies with their mothers and fathers -- much the same way that squirrels and rabbits live. 

As cute and loveable as kittens are -- the problem of cat overpopulation is not -- in fact it's dark and ugly.   But -- it does have a known and implementable solution:  pro-active sterilization of all cats and kittens living indoors or out -- the sooner the better.

We've been working pretty hard over the last few months getting our Foundation registered in New Mexico, checking accounts set up, and literature prepared so we'd be ready to start issuing our free spay/neuter vouchers before kitten season got too far along.  The last piece of the process was publishing our web site and it was completed last week.  So now we're open for business at Zimmer-Foundation.orgWe can issue free veterinary vouchers -- covering the full cost to spay or neuter up to three cats -- for Santa Fe County families with annual incomes under $40,000 per year. The procedure is simple:

If you live in an apartment complex or a mobile home park and have an e-mail address, click on our e-mail application and complete the form. Once you’re done, click the e-mail button (at the top of the form) to send it to us for processing.

If you don’t have an e-mail address and/or you own your home, you’ll need to use the mail-in application. After you complete the form online -- print it out using the double-sided setting on your printer-- and simply fold it in thirds with our address on the outside. It’s pre-addressed so all you need to do is add a first class stamp and stick it in a mailbox. (Homeowners also need to include the 2009 tax information requested as independent verification of annual family income.)

We’ll process applications quickly and send vouchers for qualified cats through the mail.  If you don't hear back from us within 10 days, call or e-mail us for an update.  The voucher specifies the clinic authorized to do the surgery. As soon as you receive your voucher(s), call that clinic to schedule your surgeries as the vouchers are only good for 30 days.

If you live in Santa Fe county and would like to help us get the word out – simply print out our flyer and post it on a public bulletin board.  Good locations for posting are pet stores, veterinary clinics, churches, schools and fast food restaurants. And, if you know someone who has an unsterilized cat, you could even print out the mail-in application and hand it to them to use.

Fixing cats is the best way – if not the only way -- to fix the companion animal welfare system. No longer spraying, fighting and kittening – sterilized cats are better companions and  much less likely to be abandoned outdoors or relinquished to a shelter.