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.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coswell Dies After A Long Bout With Feline Lymphoma

We lost Coswell last Sunday to advanced lymphoma. It started in his intestine last winter and was being well-managed on medication until about a month ago. Then the lymphoma started moving into other parts of his body – most notably into his eyes. By the time we euthanized him he had gone completely blind and was showing signs of neurological problems.

Coswell was a beautiful 15 year old cat that came into our TLC Older Cat Program in 2003 when the Ann Arbor animal control agency trapped him living at a shopping mall dumpster. He had a sweet disposition and had probably not been on the streets long when he was taken. Whether he was a lost pet or abandoned cat we’ll never know.

He had the most beautiful white whiskers of any cat I’ve seen and one of the best purr machines I’ve heard. He got along well with all the cats and was a favorite friend of Onyx. We will all miss him dearly!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Winter's On Its Way -- Are Your Cat Shelters Ready?

This time of year we get calls from people who started feeding cats in their yard in the spring and summer – who are now scurrying around to find a Cat Rescue to take them -- fearing they’ll die outdoors from the cold. Happily – this is not the case. Prior to 1950, almost all cats lived only outdoors – and cold temperatures pose no more a threat to them than they do for any other wildlife. Outdoor-only cats grow thick winter undercoats and naturally huddle together to share body warmth when it’s frigid outdoors.

But --unlike other wildlife who instinctively build their own winter houses – cats do not. They may need some help securing a dry shelter to shield them from wind, rain and snow. For without it—if they get wet and can’t dry off – they may get frostbite or hyperthermia – and this can be life-threatening.

Suitable dry shelters are often already present in your yard -- the underside of a porch, a barn or shed, or idle doghouses – and may be what attracted the cats to your property in the first place. But it can also be something you build especially for them. Alley Cat Allies offers plans for a six-cat shelter (see photo). Or it can be something you modify such as a plastic box with an access hole in it anchored to the ground.

For shelter insulation, straw or marsh grass work the best – never use hay as it can cause sneezing because of the tiny seeds in it – and stay away from blankets that can get wet and not dry out defeating the purpose of the shelter. And don’t worry if the cats don’t appear to live in their shelters – many use them only when absolutely necessary – in the dark of night when the temperatures dip their lowest.

So if you were feeding cats earlier in the year and enjoy their companionship don't let winter get in your way of keeping and caring for them.  Just be sure your cats have access to dry shelter from the elements – because in the winter months that shelter can be as important to their life quality as the food you give them. For more examples of what people use for outdoor cat shelters visit us on Facebook.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Have You Had Your Cat Fix Today?

In the United States we take pet guardianship for granted. Cats – in particular – are often free for the taking and permitted to live in most housing. If not, they often hang around outdoors at apartments and mobile home parks (attracted by the rodents feeding at community dumpsters) so even those without indoor pets can enjoy seeing and feeding them. This is not the case in Japan where they are commonly banned from apartments depriving many Japanese of the joys cat companionship. But Japanese entrepreneurs have stepped up to the plate and now provide a new twist on cat-human relationships vis a vis the establishment of Cat Cafes.

Just as the name implies, cat cafes are essentially coffee shops that house ten to twenty well-cared-for cats so people can enjoy them while sipping coffee or tea. There’s almost a hundred cafes right now with some specializing in a particular breeds or colors of cats but most providing a variety of cats – tigers, calicos, etc . Customers pay a nominal hourly fee and follow a few simple rules – like washing their hands before petting the cats and agreeing not to pull their tails. Mostly women under 35 frequent the cafes but men and older women go too. It’s not the same as having your own lap cat but close enough when that option is not available.

Our Cat Retirement Farm was a sort of “cat cafĂ©” – we had no end of volunteers that would come out weekly and provide daily care and entertainment for our group of 15-20 orphaned senior cats. Although most of the volunteers had cats of their own at home some did not – they (or other family members) were allergic or lived in places where cats were not allowed. And -- sitting in a group of cats is different from living with one or two – there’s something almost spiritual about a group of contented, well-taken care of felines. They effuse tranquility. By providing visitation events for assisted living facilities, the farm allowed us to help the elderly – if only for a few minutes – remember their earlier companionship of cats – sadly we often take that right away when we move the elderly to assisted living facilities – at a time where they could most benefit from the cat’s attention and presence.

To get more insight on how cats affect a person’s well-being – particularly one in crisis – pick up a copy of Dewey’s Nine Lives – the just-released follow-on book to Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched The World by Vicki Myron. She is the librarian who found a cat in her library’s return-book chute one winter morning and made him their resident library cat. She saw Dewey’s impact on the residents of her small Iowa town and then documented it in her first book. This second one tells two more Dewey stories and seven others – of people who had their own Dewey-like experiences. It’s a very heart-rending book out just in time for Christmas – what a wonderful gift for cat lovers everywhere.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Black Cat Day (I Mean Happy Halloween)

It’s hard to think of Halloween without thinking about black cats – they’re almost as big a part of it as pumpkins and trick-or-treating – but not in as cheerful a way. This time of year we’re barraged with news releases warning us to keep our black cats indoors to prevent them from being stolen and sacrificed in annual satanic Halloween rituals. And many animal shelters refuse to adopt out black cats in October for the same reason. I’ve yet to find any statistics to support these claims but there’s no denying that cats – especially black cats -- are rich with historical and folkloric references. In our work with cats, the “black cat” issue has only surfaced once.

Early in our Older Cat Program we placed Blackjack -- a pure black male cat – very sweet and cuddly as the resident cat at a local assisted living residence on their Alzheimer’s floor. He seemed the perfect cat to engage and assure the residents and families in their difficult time. After living there for only a few weeks it was clear that he would do a great job but – the staff asked for a second cat for those people who were superstitious about black cats. Luckily we had the perfect match – a pure white female cat named Mama. The staff embraced her and quickly changed” Blackjack’s” name to Papa. Now they had a special cat for everyone and by linking the white and black cats together by connecting their names (Mama and Papa) the “black cat issue” soon ran its course.

Two of our remaining TLC cats are black – Robin and Larry – both are sweet as can be and neither reflects the image or likeness of evil. And both are feral – Larry more so than Robin – so it’s a little ironic that they find people scary – not the other way around. Trapping them to participate in black magic would be difficult even if they were allowed outdoors -- which they’re not. We prefer to keep them indoors with us to enjoy their good looks and meek personalities.

So when you think of Halloween go ahead and think of black cats like Robin and Larry who are as innocent as new-fallen snow.  Let the negative image churned up each October of black cats as instruments of evil fade into the soon to be forgotten past. Celebrate instead the fact that even with cats – “black is beautiful”. Happy Halloween! Meow!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy National Feral Cat Day

Today is National Feral Cat Day – an annual event established by Alley Cat Allies in 2000 to call attention to the “forgotten felines” -- those cats who are not exposed to humans during their first 8 weeks of life – and consequently grow up afraid of people – making them more akin to squirrels and rabbits than to the cuddly pampered lap cats who share our homes.

Our cat programs began in 2000 by providing free spay/neuter help to feral cats in Michigan and now we continue that work in New Mexico as one element of our Cat Spay of Santa Fe program. Over the years, though, our primary focus has shifted toward pre-emptive “TNR” – working to keep cats in their original homes -- off the streets and out of animal control shelters -- by providing free and convenient spay/neuter access to lower-income families. We know that the overwhelming reason why people abandon their cats is that their cats aren’t fixed – and money and convenient access to spay/neuter help is the overwhelming reason why they stay intact. By fixing these cats we can stop feral cat colonies from forming (or growing) in the first place. And it’s incredibly easier to get disadvantaged pet cats fixed than it is to live-trap feral cats for sterilization.

We salute the efforts of Alley Cat Allies in driving home the existence of feral cats and their efforts to ensure that all cats – not just shelter-adopted house cats – are brought under the spay/neuter radar. But in the process let us not assume that feral cats are inherently different from pet cats – as they are the exact same species. And – let us not assume that because a cat wasn’t socialized as a kitten that they can’t or wouldn’t enjoy living with people. We’ve learned that lesson first hand from the 4 teenaged feral cats who share our home. It took a little front-end work to get them comfortable but now they enjoy all the amenities of indoor living. After 5 years of being house cats it’s hard to distinguish them from the other socialized cats they live with -- other than we can’t pick them up and --except for Cleo -- they’re not lap cats.

While we chip away at the cat overpopulation problem leaving outdoor cats in place makes perfect sense – too many adoptable cats are euthanized in shelters to encourage the domestication of feral cats en masse. But – as often happens – when someone is feeding feral cats they become attached to one or more – there’s certainly no harm in moving the cat indoors using appropriate safety measures and with a basic understanding that they will act differently than companion cats act. Feral cats are no more biologically wired to rough it outdoors than pet cats are. Leaving feral cats outdoors is fine -- but -- whatever you do – if you’re feeding them indoors or out -- make sure you get them fixed.   If you're in the Santa Fe area we may be able to help -- see our web site for our feral colony management program details.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Missy Finds Four Steps Work Better Than Two

For a 17-year old cat, Missy is in pretty good shape. She takes a daily dose of Denamarin to support her liver function but appears healthy other than that with her weight is holding steady at a trim 7-1/2 pounds. The only indication we have that there may be some underlying geriatric health issues is that she’s spending a bit more time at the water dish than she did a few months ago. She has an annual exam coming up soon and new lab work may point to early kidney or thyroid disease – we’ll soon find out.

Yet in spite of her continued good health she has lost a step or two – literally. Here’s how we know. Missy is one of those stereotypic cats who’d prefer to be the “only cat” in the home – so having 11 cat-mates is not of her choosing and – unlike the other cats that eat, sleep and play together -- she mingles as little as possible. When we lived in Ann Arbor, Missy simulated “only cat” status by living in my upstairs office – an area off the beaten path of most of the other cats. In Santa Fe we have a one-story house so after a few days of scouting out a territory she selected a section of our kitchen counters – possibly the only “second story” area she could create. This is fine with us as the counter area isn’t one we use for food prep and anything that keeps Missy happy is good – both for her and the other cats that she hisses and growls at when they get too close for comfort.

Even last fall -- when Missy eked out the counter as her home -- her old bones were too stiff for her to jump directly from the floor to the counter so we kept a chair handy for her to use as a step. This worked fine for several months but more recently we’ve found her sometimes sleeping on the floor under the counter instead of on it -- and wondered why the change in her behavior. Then – while watching her jump onto the chair to get to the counter we discovered why. The hop onto the chair (and from the chair seat to the counter) is getting increasingly difficult for her. Instead of just taking a running leap onto the chair, she stands staring at it and wiggling her behind – and like a tennis player serving in the wind – she sometimes stops in mid-jump to start the process all over again. Apparently over the last several months Missy’s lost more agility –and/ or has reduced vision – and it’s limiting her mobility.

Not wanting her to lose the home of her choosing, we bought her a set of cat steps from Angelical Cats and placed it next to her chair. She’s now able to skip up her stairs without missing a beat – and can spend most of her day in her own private territory – fantasizing on being the only cat in the home. If only all geriatric health problems were this simple to fix!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

U.S Shelter (Cat-And-Dog) Killing Rate Lowest Since 1950

In its July/August 2010 issue, Animal People  reports that shelter kill rates are down 17% over the last 3 years despite a depressed economy that many thought would have the oppostive effect.

It was feared that the low economy would dramatically increase the number of owner turn-ins (from people who no longer could afford to have a pet) and decrease the number of new adoptions (with fewer people willing to take on the cost of a pet).   The result of this would be an increase in shelter kill rates.

Whatever caused the dip in shelter kill rates is not clear and is probably the result of many factors. Still, Animal People was able to identify one important factor:
Wherever shelter killing has markedly dropped, about 95% of the progress can be attributed to low-cost and free high-volume cat and dog sterilization – which both reduces the numbers of homeless animals and, as free-to-good home puppies and kittens vanish, increases the opportunity for shelter animals to be adopted.”
It’s truly a closed-loop system –  by lowering the input (through pro-active spay/neuter) you also lower the output (shelter kill rates). It’s a very simple concept that seems finally to be taking hold!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cat Spay of Santa Fe Celebrates Its 100th Spay/Neuter

Since we launched our free spay/neuter program last spring we’ve often felt like we’re watching water boil. We’ve filled the pot and put it on the stove and are now painfully waiting for the burner to do its job. The burner is inertia -- that momentum that takes so long to build and  apparently even longer to stop.

You see, we have the unique position of watching our Santa Fe spay/neuter program ramp up while our Washtenaw County program ramps down. Yes – almost a year after we officially discontinued our TLC spay/neuter programs we’re still getting calls and applications for spay/neuter help from Michigan.  Despite the fact that our 2010 application says in bright red letters that you have to live in the Santa Fe area to participate. That’s how strong the desire to get a cat fixed is when you love your cat but live on a limited budget. And, as much as we’d like to help Michigan residents get their cats fixed, we simply can’t. All we can do is refer them to other programs.

So when we posted our spay/neuter invoices today and found we’ve completed 100 surgeries in our new community we exhaled. Half of these surgeries were done in August – twice as many as were done in July and three times as many as in June. That’s how inertia works. In the near term we’ll continue to show steady increases in applications as our program gets better known through word-of-mouth and the area cat organizations and vets start to recognize that our funding is there for the cats that need it most. Our newspaper ads and bulletin board posters will kick in too.

While inertia keeps building in Santa Fe, the opposite is happening in Michigan. So it won’t be too much longer before our Washtenaw County phone requests and applications fade out entirely being replaced by similar -- and fillable --  Santa Fe requests.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Saying Goodbye To Gloria -- A Great Friend and Companion Cat

I had the pleasure of living with Gloria for less than 5 of her 19 years. We don’t know much about her early years other than her guardian died leaving her alone in the home. When she was discovered – scared and crouching under the bed – she was live-trapped and taken to animal control where she was mistaken for a feral cat (because of the live trap) and almost euthanized on arrival. While preparing her for euthanasia the staff noticed she was declawed so called us to see if we wanted to take her which we did. She was one of the 70 teenaged cats we admitted to our TLC Older Cat Program and one of the luckier ones who fostered out quickly to an elderly Ann Arbor woman in 2002 – only four months after we rescued her.

Gloria was reluctantly returned to us in 2005 because – as sweet as she was 99.9% of the time -- she had a gnarly habit of biting without warning. Twice her foster mom made a midnight trip to the emergency room to be treated for the bites – and one of those times was hospitalized overnight. Much to her foster mom’s dismay, we made the unpopular decision of retrieving Gloria before her biting had any more serious consequences. (Next to human bites, cat bites can be the most serious as the mouth of the cat is a breeding ground for some pretty potent bacteria.) Yet in spite of her intermittent biting, Gloria proved a great lap cat and – although she kept mostly to herself –adjusted well to group living with the other TLC cats in our care.

Yesterday afternoon Gloria sat on my lap for the last time. Not at home but at our vet clinic. We had made another painful decision for Gloria -- to euthanize her. She had had an abrupt downturn to her life quality brought on by an antibiotic-resistant ecoli infection in her kidneys that greatly exacerbated their already degenerative state. Once the infection was identified we started her on Imipenem – an antibiotic that is not commonly used on cats but had a broad enough spectrum to treat her resistant infection. At first it seemed to work – she perked up after the first two days of treatment. But over the weekend she slid downhill fast. By Monday she was limp and weak – even having trouble walking any distance. We hospitalized her where she received IV fluids and medications and a blood transfusion. But – after 48 hours of treatment – she was weaker than when it began. We brought her home hoping she’d perk up but it was soon obvious she wasn’t going to recover. So back she went to the clinic and passed peacefully with their help.

We don’t know if Gloria’s death was brought on by an allergic reaction to the antibiotic or just to a 19-year old cat’s kidneys being stressed beyond their limits. We do know the infection was cured and that her kidneys were pretty bad even before the infection was found. She had been on daily SQ fluids for most of this year. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter. We did all we could to keep her going but nothing could prevent the inevitable. She’s on her way now to the Rainbow Bridge – where many of other her TLC cat friends will be to greet her. RIP.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Going Beyond TNR to Feral Colony Management

I don’t think anyone can dispute the merits of getting outdoor cats sterilized. It improves their overall health and disposition, helps bond them to their caregivers, makes them better neighbors and lowers their numbers. This sounds great, but is it too good to be true? No, but there is one hitch. Not in the individual benefits to each cat fixed, but in the collective benefit to cats as a species – lowering their numbers.

Using cat sterilization to reduce the overall cat population only works when there’s a focused colony manager/caregiver both willing and able to monitor the cats so they get to know all the colony members – even the most timid– and then proceeds to live-trap the cats – all the cats (male and female) to get them fixed quickly before more litters are born.

How do they do this? They establish a set meal-feeding routine – putting out food once or twice a day at the same time and place. This conditions the colony to appear at the same time each day and – because they aren’t allowed to free-feed – they’re hungry when they arrive. Once the manager identifies the whole colony – a process that may take a week or two depending upon how timid the cats are – they can start supervised live-trapping to get all the cats (male and female) fixed – a few each week – every week – until all the job is complete. After that, all the manager needs to do is continue the meal-feeding routine to flag colony newcomers – if any – so they can be fixed quickly too.

Using this method -- in less time than it takes one female cat to reproduce (63 days) -- an entire colony of 20 cats can be sterilized – at a rate of just 2-3 cats a week. The results are a kitten-free zone – a plot of land where naturally-occurring outdoor stray and feral cats can live their lives without contributing to the already burgeoning cat population. And, as we noted, sterilized cats are healthier, have more pleasing temperaments, bond closer to their colony manager and become better neighbors. No longer spraying, yowling, fighting or reproducing.

Linked together, these kitten-free zones will eventually end the community’s reliance on healthy-but-homeless cat euthanasia – replacing it with a grass roots network of kitten-free zones.

If you live in the Santa Fe County area and you’re feeding outdoor cats, why not take it to the level of colony management? If you do, we can provide you with step-by-step guidelines to create a kitten-free zone as well as provide you with free spay/neuter vouchers -- one for each cat – so long as you use them within the allotted time period – 45-60 days depending on the number of cats in your colony. Interested? To learn more, visit our web site and click on the Feral Colony Management Program.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How Much Is That Kitty In The Window?

According to the 2010 GFK Roper Poll over half of the pets in American homes were not purchased from a pet store, shelter or breeder – but were obtained “elsewhere”. Although they don’t delineate what “elsewhere” means, it’s pretty safe to assume that at least with cats, they were found outdoors or given to the caregiver by a friend, relative or neighbor who found the cat outdoors or had a cat with kittens. Many shelters and rescues deplore this type of adoption openly through media campaigns – press releases, t-shirts and bumper stickers – advocating for rescue adoptions only. “Free Kitten Signs” are the bane of the animal welfare movement.

Yet are “free” kittens any less loved in their adopted homes than “purchased” kittens or cats? Does putting a price tag on a pet – purchased from a pet store, rescue or shelter – guarantee they get a good home?

The February issue of Cornell’s veterinary newsletter Cat Watch reported on a study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (October 2009). It compared 173 cat adoptions. 95 participants received their cats for free while the other 78 paid $75 for their cats. Their attachment to their cats was compared and no significant differences were found. They concluded that if shelters adopted out adult cats for free it would speed up adoptions significantly (making more cages available for new admissions) and would result in a dramatic reduction in shelter euthanasia.

If you have any doubt that a free cat would be any less loved than a purchased cat – from a shelter, rescue or pet store – just ask yourself a simple question. “If you got your cat for free – and the odds are you actually did – would you love him or her any less than if you had paid money for her?” Of course you wouldn’t.

The practice of shelters charging for pets is more one of economics than anything else. Shelters need to offset their costs or they can’t exist. In a perfect world, the offset would come from community contributions and not be tied to services. Their clients – the cats and dogs in their care – are better served without having a price tag around their necks.  (Due diligence comes from adoption interviews and checking references.)   If shelters asked for voluntary donations instead of charging mandatory fees they may be pleasantly surprised at the results. It’s illegal to pay for human babies – and one day we’ll view companion pets this way too.

In the meantime, if we really want to see those “free kittens” ads and signs go away, we would provide community-wide accessible and free spay/neuter. Once we get pet cats routinely fixed there won’t be many mama cats out there to challenge the system.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Delaware Succeeds Where New York Fails -- Enacting A Milestone Animal Welfare Act

Delaware may be a much smaller state than New York, but its heart is magnitudes bigger. They just passed a landmark animal welfare bill – not only by unanimous vote – but with the endorsement of all of the Delaware animal shelters too! Its passage follows on the heels of New York State tabling a similar but more narrow bill that – although it had the support of most of the New York animal organizations -- was vehemently opposed by the two largest: the ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance.

Like the New York bill, the Delaware bill focuses on restricting euthanasia to those situations where a licensed veterinarian certifies a cat or dog is in irremediable pain or poses a physical threat to the staff or other shelter animals. Beyond that, euthanasia can only be used after a shelter demonstrates that they have tried everything possible to provide shelter and adoption assistance – including staying open on evenings and weekends and holding lost pets for return to their guardians for at least 3 days.

Before euthanizing a viable cat or dog, the shelter manager must personally certify that:

a. There are no empty cages, kennels or other living environments suitable to continue housing the animal.

b. There are no other compatible animals they can be housed with.

c. There are no foster home available to provide temporary care

d. There are no other qualified animal organizations who can rescue them.

On intake, shelters must check for microchips, ID tags and tattoos and post all lost pets on their web site with sufficient detail that someone could identify their pet to claim them. Wild animals – which I assume includes feral cats – are to be returned to their natural habitat.

Within 8 hours of receipt cats and dogs must be vaccinated to prevent widespread outbreaks of disease in the shelters and within 72 hours they must receive a health exam performed by a licensed veterinarian or technician who has been certified as proficient in doing exams.   Any emergency veterinary work deemed necessary must be performed.  All shelters must have designated areas set up for treatment, and isolation or quarantine.

Further, shelters must be transparent in their operation – providing detailed quarterly statistics on their operations on their web site.

This law is just another example of how far we’ve come – and it is a terrific model for other states to use in formulating similar laws. We’ve long believed that actions speak louder than words and this action speaks particularly loudly because it comes from the highest authority in Delaware. Congratulations on a job well done! Cats and dogs everywhere will benefit from your action

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Fresh Look At FIV+ Cats -- One More Reason To Fix Your Cat

With 13 teenaged cats, I spend a lot of time sitting in vet clinic waiting rooms. I usually read a book, but sometimes I browse through the clinic’s vast offering of cat magazines. Last week I was glad I did as one of them pointed to an article on the Best Friends’ web site entitled: “FIV: Catching A Bad Case of Rumors”. The article’s well worth reading as it allays many of the fears and misconceptions associated with FIV. And I was surprised to learn that BFAS now permits FIV+ cats to be adopted by guardians with other cats in their home – cautioning them to keep the FIV cats healthy and take extreme care while introducing them to their others cats. Good advice for all cat introductions -- not just FIV cats.

But this is a sea change in shelter behavior. When FIV was first identified in 1986 it was swept up in emotion – largely due to its biological similarity to the human lentivirus HIV. Although it’s sometimes referred to as “Kitty AIDS” it is not – and it cannot be transferred to humans. Standard shelter practice was (and still is in many animal control shelters) to test for FIV and euthanize positive cats – even when they are ostensibly healthy. And even without performing a different test to verify the results of the first – a protocol recommended to guard against test errors. Because of this, even cats without FIV can be erroneously euthanized as well as kittens who may test positive as babies because their mother had FIV but are actually negative on tests performed after they turn 6 months old.

Allowing FIV+ cats to be adopted is good news – so long as the guardian is aware of the condition. Many cats with the virus lead long healthy lives with no outward sign of illness. Knowing that the cat has FIV helps too. Essentially cats with FIV have compromised immune systems so if they contract an illness they’re less able to shrug it off. Knowing this, their guardians can head off problems by getting veterinary help at the first signs of illness.

And if sterilized FIV cats are properly introduced to existing non-FIV sterilized cats, the risk of transfer is extremely low. The virus only lives for a short time outside the blood stream so it’s almost always transferred from one cat to another through deep puncture wounds – usually in fights between un-neutered male cats. Cat fighting is stable homes rarely leads to puncture wounds. Casual contact (shared food dishes, water bowls or litter boxes) doesn’t cause infection nor does most sexual contact.

Spaying and neutering cats is a highly effective way to stop the spread of FIV -- since it prevents the situations that often result FIV transfer.  And this is just another reason why free and convenient spay/neuter of all cats living indoors or out is so important.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The TLC Cats Bask In A Virtual Outdoors

It was 9 months in the planning – but took only one day to erect -- our outdoor enclosure for the TLC Cats. From the outside it doesn’t look like much but it provides the cats with safe outdoor viewing of a myriad of wildlife -- birds, rabbits, pack rats and even a resident Quail family– that regularly hang out around our house.

We average about 6 or 7 cats out there at a time – and the outdoor feeling must be very real because the first few days we let them out, they would run back in the house when we approached the room – giving the impression they thought they had been caught sneaking outdoors. Now they’re getting the idea that it’s okay for them to be out and stay put. They have total access to the room when we’re home and awake.

To create the enclosure, we simply attached three electric shade screens to an exterior house wall and took advantage of the portal roof and paver floor to complete the structure.   An exterior living room door leads into the enclosure.

The cats now have a safe way to breathe in the fresh Santa Fe air, sunbathe, peep at the critters and nap without the inherent risks of being outdoors – predators, parasites or the possibility of getting lost.   All we need to add to complete the experience are a few pots of cat grass to munch on.

Would they prefer being in the real outdoors?  Probably.  But the open screened view is crystal clear from the inside so they can see the critters up close and personal but it's opaque on the outside so the critters don't see them. Ranging in age from 12 to 19 years old, these cats are much more a fan of spectator sports than live action -- and this safe enclosure optimizes their participation -- and it's just in time for the 4th of July!.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oreo's Law Takes A Bite Out of Best Friends

Best Friends Animal Society is taking some well-deserved heat right now for their failure to support Oreo’s Law. By holding a neutral position on this bill, they let down over 70% of the animal organizations in New York State who had supported it – not to mention the many cats and dogs that will die in New York shelters because the bill didn’t become law. It was tabled in June and will not be brought to a vote again until 2011 if it’s brought back at all.

Oreo’s Law (NY Assembly Bill Number A09449) was introduced last November after the ASPCA opted to kill an abused dog named Oreo rather than turn him over to another animal organization who offered to provide him with life care. If the bill had passed, it would be illegal for a shelter to unilaterally euthanize animals – who are not dangerous, suffering irremediably or afflicted with rabies -- without first giving other qualified organizations 24 hours notice of their intent. And – if any qualified organization comes forward to take the animals, the shelter is required to transfer them rather than kill them. There are already similar laws in other states – most notably a 1998 California law which is credited with saving thousands of animals.

Best Friends staying neutral on such a bill is particularly curious because anyone who knows the story of how they started knows it was by doing exactly what this bill codifies – rescuing cats and dogs from death row. Have they forgotten their roots? Why would any animal organization at the forefront of the No Kill Movement not get behind a law that makes shelter euthanasia more accountable to the community? I went to their blog to find out – and was saddened by what I read.

They chose neutrality because they didn’t want to take sides in what they considered “a fight over ideology and history” between significant animal welfare figures – Nathan Winograd and Edward Sayres. Yet this wasn’t a cocktail party debate they stayed clear of -- it was hard-and-fast legislation that would ensure shelters availed themselves of every means necessary to reasonably save the lives of viable cats and dogs before resorting to killing them. Doesn’t this law support the very premise of No Kill? … Of Best Friends?

Then Best Friends concludes that staying neutral was reasonable because:
“Ultimately we believe it made no difference, with regard to its passage, whether or not we supported the bill. … Without the support from two of the biggest organizations in the region (ASPCA and the Mayor’s Alliance), the bill simply wasn’t going to pass.”
Of course the ASPCA isn’t going to support Oreo’s Law -- it reins in their actions. And by supporting the law they would have to acknowledge that shelter euthanasia should be used only as a last resort not as an assembly line taking homeless cats and dogs in the front door, killing them and then taking them out the back door.

Making a decision to stay neutral on a bill – not because of what it does to advance a No Kill Nation – but because you don’t want to be on the losing team is morally corrupt. We do – and should -- expect more than that from Best Friends. They have a stellar history but this action puts a major chink in it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's 11:00 p.m. -- Do You Know Where Your Cats Are?

I once listened to a speaker from England explore cultural differences in cat care. For example-- in the U.S. -- shelters often refuse a cat to someone who won’t agree to keep their cats indoors -- while in the U.K. --shelters often do the opposite -- refuse to adopt to someone who won’t let their cats outdoors. Few cat care issues are as emotionally charged as this one – and even in the U.S. where animal organizations strongly discourage outdoor lifestyles -- because it puts the cat’s life at risk from cars and coyotes – there’s still many who hold a cat’s right to go outdoors is inalienable -- after all a cat is a cat. Right?

I’ve struggled with this for years with my own pets. For awhile we had cat doors to let them come and go as they pleased during the daylight but kept them indoors at night. There’s no question that our cats enjoyed this freedom – but it came with a price. We used Revolution monthly to prevent fleas and worms, and when it was wet outdoors their muddy paws soiled our floors. But the worst part was that when someone infrequently disappeared for a day or so, we’d be frantic with worry – only to learn they were fine. To add salt to our wounds – when they did return -- they’d look at us curiously wondering why we were seemed so relieved to see them again. After all – they knew they hadn’t gotten lost or injured -- they were just out catting. But the fact that we felt so guilty spoke volumes.

Over the years we’ve cut back outdoor access dramatically – they still go outside but only in a confined area – and only when we’re watching them. They no longer can run loose even in the daytime. And because cats are highly territorial I think they’re okay with this too – a territory is a territory. Once it’s defined it becomes their planet.

On our new home, we’re building a screened-in area on our patio for the cats to go outdoors without risk – and we hope it’ll be finished later this month. Originally we thought our walled-in courtyard would be safe but quickly found it works only for the geriatric companion cats whose arthritis keep them from jumping over the wall. Our indoor feral cats – Robin, Larry, Joyce, Cleo and Emmy – are a tad younger and more agile so the wall doesn't contain them. They’ll have to wait for the screened porch to sun themselves and breathe fresh air.

At least that’s what we thought until we made a rookie error a few evenings ago. It was warm outdoors so we left the sliding screen door to our courtyard unattended while we watched TV in the living room. We thought the house was secure but it wasn’t. Cleo is a classic Torti -- both smart and cunning. She saw an opportunity for adventure and took it – by cleverly pawing at the screen until it slid open just wide enough for a cat to slip out.

By the time we discovered her new skill, Cleo, Larry, Joyce and Robin had all jumped over the wall and vanished. It was dark. We were tired. And calling them didn’t bring them home. Worse -- we knew even if we saw them we couldn’t catch them because they’re feral and would run -- away from us not indoors. So we turned all the outdoor lights on and monitored the doors to see if they were near. Luckily, by 1:00 a.m. Larry, Joyce and Cleo had decided their adventure was over and it was time to come back home.

But Robin proved more difficult and we feared the worst. By morning there still was no sign of him anywhere so we spent the next day looking for him. Unlike dogs, cats don’t run – the last thing they want is to be outside of their territory – so we kept our sights on the immediate area. We knew he had a collar on with our phone number and was microchipped so if he landed at a shelter at some point we’d be notified. We also know that cats use scent as a location tool, so we cracked our garage door open about his height and stuck a pillow with his scent on it in the opening. And – lucky for us – the following morning when I opened the door to the garage there was Robin – as big as life and twice as beautiful! He found his garage – possibly through the pillow’s scent – and waited safely inside it until I opened the door to let him in.

Now the screen has a new latch on it – so even a crafty Cleo can’t slide it open – and we’re staying after our builder to get their screened-room finished asap. Keeping cats indoors or outdoors is still open for discussion – but at least for me – I sleep better when I know the cats are all safely inside when I go to sleep.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Three Cheers For The Mouseketeers -- Disneyland Employs Feral Cats For Rodent Control

I’ve been a long-time fan of the Disney parks. Although they’re not perfect (no organization is) -- with few exceptions – they excel beyond reasonable expectation at what they do – making people happy. Not only are their rides and exhibits clever and their food delicious -- but all the miniscule background details are well-oiled. And it’s these background details that make your park experience so special.

As a former manager of a small strip mall I know how challenging it is to keep a public property looking brand new. Yet Disney has found the perfect recipe for keeping trash always in its place – light bulbs always working – and gardens burgeoning with healthy (often flowering) plants. Their bathrooms are impeccable – and -- other than Mickey and his friends -- you won't hear a mouse scurrying anywhere on the grounds.

What makes this no small feat is that you also rarely see maintenance crews working. Why? To keep your park experience purrfect, the work is done after the park closes for the night.   That's right.  Disneyland employs 600 after-hours employees to groom the land and clean the facilities – and about 200 nocturnal feral cats who keep mice and other small rodents at bay.

Yes -- according to a May 2nd article in the Los Angeles Times -- feral cats help create the magic of Disneyland. No one remembers when they first moved into the park – nestling in the trees and shrubs during the day and roaming at night -- but instead of evicting them -- Disneyland uses the proven principles of managed TNR (trap/neuter and return) to control their numbers. They sterilize the resident adult cats and find homes for any kittens born there. The cats have five permanent feeding stations located throughout the grounds. "We are not trying to get rid of them," said Gina Mayberry, manager of Disneyland's Circle D ranch, where the park's animals are housed. "They keep the rodent population down."

This Memorial Day Weekend will be a busy one at amusement parks.  If you're one of the lucky ones spending it at Disneyland,remember that although Micky Mouse is the official host of Disney, it's the feral cats they provide a permanent home for that benefit most from their care.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

These Are The Cat Requests That Break Your Heart

“I am inquiring about finding a new home for our cat. She is 10 years old and loves being indoors and outdoors. We have a house guest coming for the summer that is highly allergic to cats. If I could find her a new home for her by June 6th it would allow me over a week to de-cat our home.”
To someone who loves cats as much as I do, an e-mail like this is devastating. How could anyone give up their 10-year old cat to accommodate a house guest? There must be some other alternative that would allow the cat to stay in the home during a visit from a friend or relative – even one with allergies.

The fact that she’s not looking for an alternative probably means she’s no longer bonded to the cat and this is as good excuse as any to give her up. By age ten, most cats are pretty sedentary – not as playful as they were as kittens – and they start costing more to keep – with middle-aged illnesses just around the corner.   But, if you've bonded to your cat, this is the time of life that they are the best company -- wanting more lap time and cuddling than when they were young and frisky.

A 10-year old cat on the adoption market is standing at the end of a very long line to find a new home – most adoptions are of kittens or very young and friendly adult cats. Many shelters and rescues won’t take them on because they know it takes a long time to place them – tying up a cage or foster home that could place several kittens during the same time period. Animal control shelters often accept them, but usually they go into the back room to be euthanized on arrival without even being given a chance for adoption. They flunk the “adoptable” litmus test – simply because of their age.

So what do you do if you have a mature cat that you can’t or won’t keep? The only reasonable solution is to network with everyone you know to find a permanent home for her bypassing shelters and rescues altogether. There are people who will adopt a 10-year old cat but it may take months to find them. Wanting them out of the house by June 6th is simply not realistic. Our TLC Older Cat Program -- during its brief shelter phase -- placed about 3 dozen teenaged cats. Most of the people who adopted them were middle-aged women living alone who had recently lost a cat to old age illnesses -- like cancer or kidney failure. Targeting this group takes some creativity but as a rule they make great homes for older cats as they’ve gone through the process before and understand the benefits and challenges of seeing a cat through life to the Rainbow Bridge.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Cat Debate: Can An Adult Feral Cat Become Socialized?

How often do you read that if kittens aren’t given intense human attention during their brief socialization window (the time before they turn 8 weeks old), they’ll stay feral cats all their lives? This is the premise at the heart of TNR (trap-neuter-return) – that feral cats are more suited to living in outdoor colonies than indoor homes. On the surface, this is understandable science. After all, cats are animals – why would they want to sit on a human’s lap or share their home without having been pre-conditioned to do so as kittens?

Yet how often do you also hear individuals who rescue cats – or find cats living in their yard or barn – say that adult feral cats do tame – even if it takes awhile for them to calm down. But if the science is correct, this is impossible. Right? So what’s really going on here? Here are a few explanations:

Lost or abandoned pet cats revert to feral behaviors to survive outdoors. And these previously-socialized cats tame quickly – usually within a few weeks or months of when they reconnect with humans. And,

Feral cats often bond to a caregiver who regularly brings them food. The cats learn through repetition that the caregiver is their friend and will not harm them. So eventually they let their guard down around that particular person, but still not around other people. This is a form of habituation not socialization.

Yet neither of these situations explains what we’re seeing in our own home with our four teenaged feral cats: Larry, Joyce, Emmy and Cleo. When they first moved indoors in 2005, they were clearly feral – always hanging out as a group in the areas of the house we didn’t. They wouldn’t even come to our kitchen to eat – we had to feed them separately in their own area. Then, about a year ago, we started seeing subtle changes in them – with Cleo leading the way by sleeping with us at night – even though she kept an arm’s length away and stayed on the edge for a quick exit.

After moving to Santa Fe last fall, the cats seemed to come around even more. Right from the start they ate in the kitchen with our companion cats – and started joining us in the office comfortably napping while we worked. Now Emmy and Larry are routine bed visitors – and Cleo no longer stays an arm’s length away -- often sleeping on my pillow all night long. Now Emmy and Cleo allow me to pick them up and carry them – without struggling to get free. And – while renovating our home – there’s been a frequent flow of work crews in the house – and they see as much of our feral cats as they do our companion cats.

So if feral behavior is truly irreversible – how can teenaged feral cats – change so dramatically? We know enough about their backgrounds to know that they weren’t socialized as kittens – and yet their acceptance of people now extends well beyond their caregivers. What’s really happening here is a question -- but my guess is that cats aren’t as genetically pre-wired to be permanently feral as we portray them.

Right now – with as many homeless cats as there are – leaving feral cats outdoors is still our best strategy. They’re proven survivors. But once we get the numbers down, it’s a concept we may have to revisit. Just because they aren’t stereotypic lap cats, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy the life of Riley as much as the next pampered pet cat – Larry, Cleo, Joyce and Emmy prove that they can. So when it comes to feral cats, it's not true that they’re all black-and-white – a lot of them are calico.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Spay

Is it okay to spay a mom cat? Can she be fixed when she’s in heat, pregnant or nursing? The short answer is yes. And, because cats are polyestrus long-day breeders – you often have no choice. They go in and out of heat continuously -- every two weeks -- during the “long day months” of February through October -- unless they’re ill or already pregnant. Their heat cycles start when a female kitten is as young as 16 weeks and yes – mother cats can become pregnant while nursing – and related cats and kittens (brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, sons and mothers) do breed. If you’re living with a male and female cat or kitten (related or not) you can have a litter of kittens even if your cats are indoor-only. My first female cat got pregnant while I was moving into a new apartment – I left her in the new one while I went to pick up another load of belongings-- not knowing a kitchen window was slightly open. When I returned there was a neighbor’s tom cat in my living room and 63 days later we had a brand new litter of 3 kittens. That’s all it takes. My cat lived alone and had never been outdoors and yet she was pregnant! I didn’t even know she was in heat.

The best way to prevent this is to get your cats (male and female) fixed as young as possible. Vet students today are being trained to sterilize cats at 8 weeks of age and two pounds of weight. Many private veterinarians also fix cats at that age or wait until their 12 weeks old and three pounds. Some still adhere to the older practice of waiting until they’re six months old – this helps to make a pet cat more suitable as an indoor companion, but leaves you exposed to having or causing an unintended litter or two.

The early spay/neuter surgeries have been standard practice in animal shelters with in-house veterinarians for over 20 years now and not only have they demonstrated it’s safe – but some argue it’s better -- because young kittens are more resilient than older cats and have less surgery after-effects to deal with. For female cats the surgery is often simpler – since they can’t be in heat or pregnant.

So can you fix an in-heat or pregnant cat? Yes.  But not without increased risk -- as the surgery is more complicated. If you think your cat is pregnant, fix her immediately – the longer you wait, the more complicated the surgery will be. If you find yourself with a pregnant cat and your vet recommends against spaying her -- or you have moral quandaries about doing so --you may have a litter of unintended kittens. If so, start finding homes for them even before they’re born, but plan on keeping them together as a litter for their first 8 weeks. This is how they learn to be cats.

And – most importantly –get Mom spayed as soon as her kittens are eating on their own – at about 4 weeks of age. Mom can get pregnant at that time and finding homes for her second litter will be a lot harder than the first. Our Feral Colony Handbook (Appendix C) gives a good overview on how to care for and socialize kittens.

And please – don’t intentionally breed your cats – no matter how beautiful they are. The odds are their kittens won’t look like them anyway. If you really enjoy kittens, channel that energy into a more positive light by volunteering as a foster home for kittens that couldn’t be prevented. Cat rescues and shelters get flooded with them and they have to be placed in foster homes until after they’ve been socialized and are at least 8 weeks old. You and your children can perform a great community service by opening your homes to these very orphaned babies – making every day a mother’s day for them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cat Spay Of Santa Fe Update

After our first burst of activity in late April, Cat Spay of Santa Fe went dormant.  We kind of expected that to happen as it takes time for a new program to build a rhythm.  And – since it is a new program – that’s okay -- because it gives us some time to work out any kinks without making too many public mis-steps. (We used our earlier Ann Arbor spay/neuter programs as a model but there are differences between Ann Arbor and Santa Fe that'll cause changes to how we work with both applicants and veterinary clinics.)

While we build up an application rhythm, we're finding ways to speed the process up -- here are a few things we're trying:
We've already expanded our service area. In Ann Arbor we were sandwiched between some very large metropolitan areas – like Detroit, Jackson and Toledo (Ohio) – so we serviced only specific zip codes to limit applications.  In Santa Fe County, with the exception of Albuquerque (who has its own free spay/neuter program) we're surrounded by low-population rural areas  – and so we’re expanding our initial service area to include them – so long as they’re able to drive into the county for the surgeries.

We’ve joined Scoop – a social network web site of the Santa Fe New Mexican for animal lovers –and this is our first post to it.  If you're reding this on Scoop and want to help us fix pet cats for lower-income Santa Fe area families – just print out our program flyer -- or contact us and we'll mail you some for posting.   The more places in Santa Fe who display our flyer, the more people we'll reach.  Community bulletin boards are often our best way to find qualified applicants.  To help, you can post the flyers on pretty much any community bulletin board in or near Santa Fe County --- where you live or work, shop or attend school or church -- anywhere you think cat lovers will see them.

We've mailed posters and applications to the many Santa Fe pet stores and veterinary clinics for posting.  By their nature, these places often see or hear from the ones that have cats and can’t afford to fix them -- and we'd like to be at the top of their referral list for help.

And – while we wait for our application rhythm to kick in – we’re working with Felines & Friends to fix as many feral cat colonies as possible.  They’ve got four active TNR projects – a senior citizen home, a casino, a doggie day care and a pet boarding business – all with colonies of reproducing cats that'll be much better neighbors once they’re fixed. We’ve provided vouchers for about 50 of these cats so far – and will happily provide more if they’re needed to quickly complete the job.

Our long-term focus has to be on the pet cats in lower-income families -- to prevent more cat colonies from forming -- and to ensure cats don't lose good homes just because their guardians don't have the front-end money to fix them.  But existing cat colonies need help too – so until our funds are flowing regularly to sterilize pet cats, we’ll work wherever we can to help all cats.   It’s simply the most effective way to limit and eventually eliminate – the senseless practice of euthanizing  healthy-but-homeless cats -- and isn't that really our ultimate goal anyway?

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.