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.

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.