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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Albuquerque to lower shelter euthanasia rates through free spay/neuter vouchers for low-income pets

With a population of 523,000, (845,000 in its metro area) Albuquerque’s two animal control shelters are kept very busy. In 2009 they accepted 26,000 cats and dogs -- successfully adopting out about 16,000 -- but killing over 10,000 others– roughly 71 cats and dogs a day! As horrifying as this is, there’s nothing especially unique about it. The same thing happens in animal-control based-or-funded shelters throughout the country.

“There is one solution [to stop the killing], and it is spay and neuter programs” announced Mayor Berry at a special Spay Day USA Press Conference yesterday. Beginning in April, Albuquerque will start issuing no-cost vouchers to qualified low-income caregivers redeemable at local veterinary clinics.

This is great news on many levels for Albuquerque, for New Mexico – indeed for the nation.

First and foremost the announcement was made by the moral compass of Albuquerque – the mayor of New Mexico’s largest city. He stood front and center and announced that the killing of homeless cats and dogs is wrong.   As obvious as this is, it's rarely spoken out loud by shelter or government officials.  Second, instead of blaming the lower-income families whose pets fall below the traditional spay/neuter radar as “irresponsible pet owners causing pet overpopulation”, he's extending a helping hand– by providing free spay/neuter vouchers. Third, by working through the local veterinary network already in place in Albuquerque – instead of holding special event clinics or using one central (and often inaccessible) location – he is providing them with convenient access -- which is essential to getting lower-income family pets fixed.

It’s long been known that there is no such thing as a “no kill shelter” – to be” no kill” requires a community-based effort – eventually a nationally-based effort. It’s also long been known that killing of homeless cats and dogs is unnecessary. It has a solution that’s both simple and cost effective – pro-active spay/neuter of all cats living indoors and out, friendly and feral.   As helpful as private spay/neuter programs are, they can never be effective as similar work sanctioned by the community.  It’s nice to see that Albuquerque has recognized this and is now taking action to stop the killing – let’s hope other communities take notice and follow their example.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Working to make Spay Day USA every day -- for cats in Santa Fe County

In 1995 the Doris Day Animal Foundation (DDAF) started promoting Spay Day USA as an annual spay/neuter awareness day – encouraging grass-roots level animal welfare and rescue groups to do something special for just one day each year – shifting their focus from adoption to sterilization – holding special events to provide free or very-low-cost spay/neuter in their communities. Today is the “day” for 2010.

DDAF’s web site credits these events with over one-and-a-half million spay/neuters– which averages out to 107,143 cats and dogs getting fixed during this annual 24-hour event – 75 sterilizations every minute. And, it’s just another example of what we already know. Cats (and dogs) are not left intact because their guardians are irresponsible. When free or very-affordable spay/neuter service is provided at conveniently-located clinics, guardians do act responsibly and get their pets fixed. The spay/neuter barrier is not education or culture – but access and money.

Without special help, 85% of all pet cats are routinely fixed when they are first adopted. The remaining 15% -- that live in the families of the very young (college students and families with small children), the un-or-under employed (living off unemployment or from one paycheck-to-the-next) and the elderly or disabled (counting on social security to pay their living expenses) – simply don’t have the funds up front to fix their cats. Yet, fixing them is critical to their retaining their homes – otherwise their noxious spraying, fighting, yowling and kittening will eventually become intolerable for even the most committed caregivers – and the bond between them breaks – leaving the unaltered cat out on the street to fend for herself or taken to a shelter where she is as likely killed as adopted.

Even though these cats constitute only 15% of the pet cats, they cause 80% of the kittens born annually. Why? Because – when these unsterilized cats are abandoned outdoors –they form or join cat colonies – and continue reproducing. While Alley Cat Allies – and the myriad of groups using their Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) model – is highly effective at sterilizing these colonies, preventing the formation of new colonies is outside their scope. And, without halting new colony formation – by fixing the cats most at-risk of being abandoned –- TNR can never complete the task of controlling the outdoor cat population.

We thought it was only fitting to use 2010 Spay Day USA as the day to announce our new spay/neuter program – as it ties into providing year-round help for the same cats Spay Day USA addresses – pet cats in lower-income families – those who can provide routine daily love, food and water for their cats – but not the front-end money to get them fixed. By helping pet cats keep their original homes we’ll be preventing new outdoor cat colonies from forming – and thereby increasing the effectiveness of TNR work.

Our new program will be called Cat Spay of Santa Fe – and targets at-risk cats for residents of Santa Fe County. We have a lot of work yet to do to establish the program but hope to be up-and-running by late spring or early summer. Through Cat Spay of Santa Fe residents of mobile home parks and apartments – or families with annual incomes under $40,000 per year – can apply for up to 3 free spay/neuter vouchers covering the full cost to spay or neuter each cat and vaccinate once for rabies.

Over the next few months we’ll be contacting the vet clinics (shelter and private) to solicit their support. For as important as it is to make spay/neuter free, it’s equally important to make it convenient. For many caregivers the cost of gas is prohibitive and others are dependent on public transportation or friends and relatives to take them to a clinic – and they’ll hesitate to ask for help if it involves a major drive. Our Michigan spay/neuter programs enjoyed the support of over 30 veterinary clinics who regularly accepted our vouchers enabling us to schedule most surgeries locally – where the cats live. We hope the same will be true in Santa Fe County. Stay tuned for more details.

Let’s hope we can help make Spay Day USA every day in Santa Fe.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Our Cats Got Bright Red Hearts for Valentine’s Day—And Coordinated New Collars Too

This year – for Valentine’s Day -- I wanted to do something special for our cats. And -- what better way is there to show them how much we love them and want to keep them safe – than giving them new, bright red engraved hearts to flaunt – complete with our name, address and phone number? Although they’re all micro chipped – we know ID tags are the best way to get them back quickly -- if – god forbid –they ever get lost outdoors. Microchips only work when the cat ends up at a major shelter or goes to a clinic where a conscientious vet scans for a chip on a first “new home” examination. By the time either of these events happen, it may be weeks or months after your cat originally got away.

Why? Because when people find a lost cat outdoors – especially a friendly cat – they often jump to conclusions. They assume that -- since the cat doesn’t have a collar -- she doesn’t have a loving home – or was cruelly abandoned. If they’re attracted to the cat, they may rescue her by taking her home to live on a trial basis. Sometimes that works but often it creates a problem – especially if there are other pets and the guardian doesn’t know how to introduce the new cat to them Or, if the other family members don’t find the cat as attractive – the tension it creates often results in the cat being abandoned weeks or months later – or given to a rescue that may not be equipped with microchip scanners and may assume the cat was abandoned.

The statistics on recovering a lost cat are abysmal – but an in-your-face name tag is often the best way to ensure your cat comes back home. It’s hard to assume a cat was abandoned when they’re dangling their address around their neck. The microchip is important too – as a back-up -- if the collar comes off before the cat is found. There's always that possibility because a cat collar is intentionally designed to come off if the cat hooks it on something for the cat's safety.

No matter how careful you are, your indoor cat is vulnerable to getting out– it happens in a fraction of a second. If you try to catch your cat the situation often worsens, as the cat will bolt and run to get away from you. As hard as it is, it’s often better to observe them without moving quickly – so they don’t think you’re being aggressive. Unlike dogs who’ll run when they’re lost, cats simply hunker down in the closest and best hiding place they can find – often within feet of where they got out. They’ll stay hidden during daylight and come out between dusk and dawn –only to look for food or to try to find their way back home.

If you have a good general idea of where they are, your best option is to bait a live trap with the stinkiest canned cat food you can buy, and place it in the vicinity of where you lost the cat. Eventually she’ll get hungry enough to enter the trap. When she does, quickly cover it with a towel to calm her, and then bring her indoors torelease her.  If you can't trap her, hopefully the ID tag will be her best ticket back.   And -- even if you never lose your cat -- you can still admire how pretty she looks -- with a loving heart dangling from a color-coordinated collar.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Here We Go Again ... New Illnesses In Our Older Cats

Since losing Amber and Tasha last September, our cats have been relatively healthy – at least as healthy as a group of 13 senior-to-geriatric cats can be. Then -- around New Year’s -- that started to change. We weighed them in early January, and found a few of them had lost significant amounts of weight. And -- since cats are so good at hiding illness -- weight loss is often your first clue that something’s not right. We keep a digital baby scale on hand just for this purpose.

Gloria – our 19-year old matriarch -- had dropped from 10 lbs in October to 8 lbs 12 ounces in January. Since she had been diagnosed in September with early-stage kidney disease we took her to the vet for evaluation. During her exam the vet noticed she had a Grade 3 heart murmur (scale of 1-6) and hypothesized that hypertension may be the cause – since it afflicts about 20% of all cats with chronic kidney disease. We took her blood pressure – and sure enough – it was high – ranging from 190-210. We put Gloria on amlopodine and rechecked the blood pressure a week later and it had dropped back to the normal range – averaging about 150. She’ll need medication now for the rest of her life. We chose to have it compounded in a chicken-flavored liquid over giving her a pill (Norvasc) because the pill is thin and brittle -- and quartering it – the common dose for cats -- is almost impossible without it splintering. The liquid form is a little more expensive but it tastes good and ensures a consistent dosing.

13-year old Keja had lost almost 2 pounds since we weighed her in late September. She was born with allergies and we had been giving her Vetalog (steroids) twice a week over the time she’s lived with us to control the itching from the allergies. When we moved to Santa Fe we weaned her off of Vetalog – with the hope her allergies might not be triggered by the arid climate. But by January her ears – the first area to show allergic distress -- were black and gunky. We treated them topically with a combination steroid/antibiotic drop and they cleared up – at least for awhile. Then earlier this week we noticed her forehead was inflamed and she had lost some of the skin on her nose so she went back to the vet. This time she got a steroid injection (faster-acting then pills) and an antibiotic (to treat a possible staph infection) and the inflammation quickly cleared up. As much as we’d prefer not to keep her on steroids, we know they’re needed to keep her comfortable but do worry about how they’ll complicate her chronic kidney disease – also newly-diagnosed.

15-year old Coswell’s January vet trip was to recheck his thyroid – he’s been hyperthyroid since last August – and because he too was losing weight, I thought the dose might need to be adjusted – as hyperthyroid cats tend to eat a lot yet still lose weight. It turned out the thyroid was well managed– so it wasn’t the source of the weight loss – and beyond that he seemed reasonably healthy – although very thin. But, only two weeks later, he started having diarrhea and vomiting. I weighed him again and found he had lost still another pound. So Coswell went back to the vet and this time they kept him to do an ultrasound which uncovered a growth on his colon. They aspirated a few cells and diagnosed him with lymphoblastic lymphoma – a very aggressive cancer. We chose not to pursue chemotherapy– it could potentially extend his life but only for a few months – and are treating him now with steroids and Vitamin B to keep him comfortable and possibly shrink the tumor. His appetite has improved and he’s put back a little bit of the lost weight.

While Coswell was at the clinic, we found new vomit and diarrhea and realized he wasn’t the only sick cat in our house. The other sick cat turned out to be 17-year old Missy. We worried that we might have a virus running through the house -- since her symptoms were so similar to Coswell’s -- but her lab results were completely different so it was just a coincidence. Since Missy didn’t feel well she was pretty ornery at the clinic making a thorough check-up difficult. Instead we treated her symptoms with antibiotics and supplements and they seem to have calmed her digestive down – at least for the time being.

It’s been quite a winter for the cats and it’s kind of sad to watch these sweet cats follow the patterns of those we’ve previously lost – kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer and intestinal problems. We know they still have a fair amount of time left -- but you can’t help but think their quality of life is somewhat diminished when they start needing quarterly vet visits and trays of medications to manage their health. We’ll try to keep them as comfortable as possible – for as long as possible -- and can only wait to see what happens. Not only are cats masters of hiding illness, they’re also masters of handling illness too.

To learn more about our group of retirement cats, click on older cats.