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.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is It Really Raining Cats and Dogs?

If you believe the statistics published by many animal organizations, yes.  For example, PETA’s web site states that in “…seven years one female cat and her offspring can produce an incredible 370,000 kittens” And …”Just one unaltered female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in only six years”.     Although these numbers may add up on paper, Mother Nature sees to it that they never play out in real life – for if they were even close to being accurate, our streets would be so full of cats and dogs that we wouldn't be able to walk down the sidewalk without tripping over them.  And that simply isn't the case.

No one really knows how many cats and dogs there are – but the pet owner marketing surveys published by APPA (American Pet Product Producers Association) may shed some light.  They estimate there are about 164 million cats and 78 million dogs living in American homes.  Annual adoptions into this population include about 12 million cats and 11 million dogs.  Un-owned cats living outdoors in feral cat colonies add to the total cat population –but again how many there are is unknown.  Estimates run as high as one feral cat for every owned cat.  Yet as we've seen through our spay/neuter program – the line is blurry between the two groups and many “yard cats” may be double-counted.

Of the 12 million cats adopted out each year, only 500,000 are purebred cats purchased from breeders, and 2.5 million come from animal shelter adoptions.  The overwhelming majority –9 million-- are cats that are literally found outdoors (feral, lost or abandoned) or born to someone’s pet cat – and then kept or given to someone else through a free cat ad or networking person-to-person with friends, relatives and coworkers.

APPA doesn't distinguish, but we assume the majority of adoptions are kittens and puppies – with most of the balance being young adults – often abandoned or relinquished from homes that can’t afford to fix them.   For – once pets become sexually mature, they become increasingly challenging to care for – even for the most loving guardians.   Only 12% (or 20 million) of owned cats are left intact – not because their guardians don’t understand the importance of fixing them, but simply because they lack the front-end money to do so.  Scare tactic population statistics aren't needed to drive home this point – all you have to do is live with one to understand. 
So why does PETA and many other otherwise responsible animal organizations perpetuate these grossly misleading statistics?  Perhaps they think that this is the best way to show the importance of spaying and neutering cats or that it’s the best way to justify the use of healthy cat euthanasia to manage shelter occupancy rates – for according to the HSUS, 2.5 million cats and kittens are put down prematurely in shelters annually – rough half of their total admissions.    Whatever their reason, the result is a distorted picture of the number of cats – one that may be more hurtful to them than helpful.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Introducing Acute Veterinary Care for Cats

A few weeks ago a Santa Fe woman called us about Spook -- her 8-year old male cat.  He just wasn’t acting right and she wanted to get him to a vet to find out why.  But raising two grandchildren on an income of only $15,000 per year made that next to impossible.  The first clinic she called quoted $150 just to walk in the door and then more depending on what treatments he needed.  The second clinic quoted less but they couldn’t see him until the next day.  I could tell by the somberness in her voice that she felt he needed attention sooner rather than later.   She hesitated to call a third clinic because by now she knew the cost of diagnosing and treating Spook at any clinic was way outside her budget.  Then a friend of hers suggested calling us for financial assistance.

Normally we would have declined to help because our focus has been exclusively on cat sterilization.  But something about this call hit a chord.  And -- if our goal in sterilizing lower-income pet cats is to keep them in their original homes – would it be stretching it too much if we added acute medical emergencies to our program?    After all – if a cat’s guardian can’t afford to sterilize their cat, how are they going to pay for a medical emergency?  And – without prompt professional attention– the cat may suffer unnecessarily – or may even die prematurely.  Considering this we suggested Spook’s guardian take him to a third clinic and ask the vet to provide us with a diagnosis and estimate of treatment costs.  If the long-range prognosis for the cat was good, we may be able to pay the costs to treat his emergency.

Lucky for Spook she got him to a clinic that afternoon.  His urinary tract was blocked and if that had not been corrected immediately he may have died.  Fortunately after a brief hospitalization with lots of fluid therapy he was ready to go home again and pick up life where he left off – with no serious damage to his health.  Don’t you just love a happy ending?

We do.  So now we’ve formulated Spook’s situation into a new Foundation program called Acute Veterinary Care Assistance.  Services covered are the necessary costs to treat an otherwise-healthy cat for an acute and curable health problem.  It serves as a last-resort option for cat caregivers in our service area who are unable to pay for the treatments themselves and cannot qualify for traditional funding through existing financing programs such as Care Credit.

The best news is that it won’t take any funding from our free cat spay/neuter program because we’re funding it with the money we previously allocated for feline veterinary scholarships – a program we put on hold during the 2009 financial meltdown.   With our last scholarship recipient graduating this year, it was time to open the program to new applicants or reallocate the money to something else.  As much as we liked sponsoring new feline veterinarians, we believe funding acute veterinary care is more in line with our mission –channeling the money directly to otherwise healthy cats in need of emergency care.

For just as we believe that no cat should have to lose a good home because their caregiver can’t afford to get them fixed, we also believe no cat should have to suffer or die because their guardian can’t afford to pay for urgent care.    For complete program information on this and all our programs, visit our web site,

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dieting Your Cat? Proceed With Caution

Angel came to our Older Cats Program when she was
16 years old.  Her obesity had led to uncontrollable
 diabetes and other pancratic problems which made
 her life and her care very challenging. 
The recent death of the 2-year old, 39 pound cat “Meow” in the Santa Fe Humane Society Shelter highlights the feline obesity problem in this country.    Our pampered feline friends are often overweight – largely a product of too much food and too little activity – the tradeoff of giving up their outdoor life to have a roof over their head and 3 squares a day as indoor-only pets -- a change that has occurred only over the last 60 years – since the invention of kitty litter. 

Before then, cats lived outdoors largely as wildlife relying on what they could catch to survive -- which was typically a few rodents a day – and some days even less than that.    These rodents – typically mice – were the perfect feline diet – high in protein, low in fat with zero carbs – and because the cat had to catch the mouse --- they provided a source of exercise as well.    

Cat food –as we know it today – became available about the same time as kitty litter – in the 1950’s.    Purina had developed an extrusion process to produce dry cat  food – and to make that process work – as well as cost effective -- a large amount of starch was added to the cat’s diet – typically corn.    And the only exercise the cat gets from eating it, is the short walk from the couch to the kitchen, where many caregivers leave a large bowl of food out for the cat to munch on at will -- trusting the cat will know when they've had enough. 

For cats prevention of obesity is much easier – and safer -- than dieting.  Here are some simple guidelines to help keep your cat fit:
1.      Always feed cat-specific food according to the label on your food package.  Feed only the amount recommended by the manufacturer.  You may be surprised by how little food the cat is intended to eat and may be unintentionally overfeeding. 

2.      Feed grain-free foods with meat as the first ingredient – these are closer to the cat’s natural diet and should be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. 

3.       Exercise your cat for 15-20 minutes daily.  Use interactive toys like Da Bird – or if your cat will tolerate a harness and leash -- take him for a daily walk outdoors.

4.       Track your cat’s weight monthly – invest in a baby scale -- or simply hold the cat while you’re on your scale and subtract your weight from the total.    A cat’s weight – going up or down – is usually a cause for concern.  Knowing what your cat’s normal weight is will help identify illness before other signs appear and will help you monitor their diet to keep them healthy and trim.
If your cat is already obese – that is beyond being “kitten plump” -- dieting may be necessary.   If so, consult with your vet before starting a diet and proceed with caution.   Overweight cats can easily become anorexic or develop fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis) if you try to quickly drop their weight.    This can result in liver failure and ultimately death – and can happen very quickly without you being aware until it’s too late.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April Showers Bring May Flowers -- And Lots of Kittens Too

If you find newborn kittens nestled in with your daffodils and tulips this spring, don’t be surprised.  Unlike dogs who are largely commercially bred, cats mostly reproduce the old fashioned way – randomly.   And – with the majority of pet cats now sterilized as kittens -- most of this random breeding happens outdoors in feral cat colonies.   

These colonies consist of lost and abandoned pet cats (who revert to feral behavior for survival) and their feral offspring.  They reside anywhere they have a stable food source and available dry shelter:  in rural fields with healthy rodent populations and thick vegetation --in commercial areas with dumpsters (that attract rodents) and protective landscaping -- and in residential yards with outdoor garbage cans or food left out for wildlife -- using log piles, sheds, undersides of mobile homes or similar structures for shelter.   You may have feral cats living very close to your home and not know it because they maintain such a low profile – active only between dusk and dawn when they’re least visible to people.  But their kittens -- who are not mobile -- are much easier to spot. 
Feral kittens come in a rainbow of colors -- black, grey, orange, yellow, white, brown – and a kaleidoscope of patterns – solid, striped, swirled and patched – with fur ranging in length from short to medium to long.  Some even look like purebred cats – complete with color points and blue eyes.  They supply our shelters and rescues with a bumper crop of adoptable kittens each year – with the excess often put down for lack of homes or for contracting stress-induced illness.  And in spite of the number taken to shelters, more are passed person-to-person to friends, relatives and co-workers or through “free cat” ads in newspapers and on Craig’s List.  Still others go unnoticed and remain in their colonies permanently living as wildlife – often producing kittens themselves when they’re as young as 4 months old.
If a litter of kittens is born in your yard, leave them with their mother until they’re old enough to walk and eat on their own – usually about 4 weeks old.  Observe them --but don’t disturb them -- or the mother will move them.  Put kitten food out nearby at the same time each day for the mother to eat – leaving it out just long enough for a meal – and then pulling the remainder when she walks away.
You can (and ideally should) separate the kittens from their mother at 4 weeks – otherwise she’ll train them to be as afraid of people as she is.  Wearing protective clothing or using a live trap, very carefully bring the litter indoors as a group to socialize – both to people and to their littermates -- or find someone who loves kittens to do it for you.  No special skills are needed other than a desire to spoil them with lots of human attention.    When you start handling them, wrap them in a towel for your protection.  Socialization occurs quickly in kittens this young – taking just a few weeks’ time – and it’s most effective when it’s done in private homes (not shelters) where they get exposed not only to people but to other pets and household noises like TVs, washers and doorbells.   

While they’re being socialized, start networking to find good homes for them and -- whenever possible –fix them before giving them away --many vets sterilize kittens at 8 weeks of age provided they weigh at least two pounds.  Fixing the kittens not only makes them easier to place, but it also optimizes their chances of keeping their homes permanently.    Once they’re sexually mature, the persistent kittening, yowling and spraying often becomes more than even a committed caregiver can handle.  And – if they lack the money to fix the cats themselves -- they’ll face the tough choice of giving them to a shelter where they fear they’ll be put down –or abandoning them outdoors where they’ll have to fend for themselves – creating more feral cat colonies in the process.     

And – to prevent an encore litter later in the year –fix the mom cat too -- mom cats can get pregnant while they're still nursing.  When you separate the kittens, live trap the mother at feeding time and get her to a clinic for spaying.  Once she’s fixed, bring her back and release her outdoors.  If you can, continue feeding her meals --and if you find other cats coming to eat– get them fixed too.  If financially this is more than you can handle, check with cat rescues and vet clinics to see if there is funding – as there often is.    

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For Cat Spay/Neuter To Work, All Cats -- Male, Female, Indoors and Outdoors -- Need To Be Included

Almost everyone today understands the importance of fixing their pet cats.  This goes without saying.  Yet many still apply a different standard to the yard cats they feed.  Fixing yard cats – especially if they’re not socialized (feral) – is a bit more challenging than fixing your adopted pet cats, but no less important.  If left intact, it’s only a matter of time before their persistent kittening, yowling, spraying and fighting will try the patience of even the most committed caregivers -- and when that happens --the cats they once enjoyed feeding become a burden -- often abandoned outdoors or taken to a shelter where they will almost certainly be put down as “unadoptable”. 

If you know someone feeding unsterilized outdoor cats find out why they fixed their pet cats but let their yard cats stay intact.  Here are the most common reasons we hear and how we respond:
“They’re not my cats – I just feed them.”    While that may be true, if the cats are fixed they’ll be easier to care for and better neighbors.  And -- once you have a meal-feeding routine in place -- live-trapping for sterilization is almost a slam dunk.  We provide full feeding and trapping information in our Feral Colony Handbook.  

“The cats may belong to someone else who may not want them fixed.  There’s an easy way to test this theory.  If the cats are tame, put inexpensive cat collars on them with a note taped inside asking if the cats are someone’s pets and if so would they call you to confirm this.   If the cats do have a full-time guardian, they’ll see the collar and read your note.  If the cats are feral you won’t be able to put a collar on them and can safely assume they’re not someone’s pets.
“They’re too wild for me to handle”.  It’s true that you should never handle a feral cat – but hundreds of feral cats are live-trapped daily for sterilization.   The process is relatively simple and safe so long as you leave the cats in the live traps to take to the clinic.  The staff will anesthetize them through the trap, then remove them for surgery and return them to the traps while they’re still under anesthesia.  When you get the cats home you simply return them to the outdoors by opening the trap door.   Traps can be loaned, rented or purchased from a variety of sources ranging from friends, vet clinics, home rental businesses, pet or hardware stores.
“I fixed the last cat that came to my yard and he disappeared a few months later so I’m not going to pay to have any more done.”  It always hurts to spend money on a cat and then lose them.  This can happen – although not as often – with adopted cats too.  If money is the reason you’re not fixing the cat, call your local cat groups and veterinary clinics to find out what organizations help with the cost.    If there aren’t any, find a vet that willing to sterilize the cats without requiring any additional work to keep the cost as low as possible.  And – act quickly – the sooner you fix your yard cats the fewer you’ll have to pay for.  Cats have a talent for reproducing. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today's World Spay Day 2012

The last Tuesday in February is set aside annually to bring international attention to the importance of spaying and neutering pets. For cats this is particularly important because they can breed when they’re as young as 4 months old and as often as three times a year – starting in late winter and continuing into fall. 

It’s easy to see how the situation spirals out of control.  You adopt a stray cat or the kitten of someone you know and before you realize it she’s pregnant.  Once her kittens are born you try to find them homes but a few don’t adopt out so your single pet cat is now a family of cats.   And – if you don’t act quickly to get the entire family fixed – more kittens will follow.  We hear this story over and over again from people applying for our free spay/neuter vouchers – and we think – if only they had known about our program sooner…
And -- as important as cat spay/neuter is in containing the domestic cat population --it’s even more important for the cat.  Once spayed (or neutered) the cat is healthier, a better companion and statistically much more likely to retain his or her original home.  Left intact, it’s only a matter of time before the difficult cat behaviors – yowling, spraying and kittening – become more than even the most dedicated caregiver can manage.  When this happens the cats are typically abandoned outdoors (where they form or join feral cat colonies and continue reproducing) or taken to the local animal control shelter (where they’re often put down -- for no other reason than they were never sterilized).     
Fortunately for most pet cats – about 85% of them – spaying and neutering is a routine part of adopting – shelter cats are typically fixed at 8 weeks of age before they are released to a permanent home.  And stray cats that are rescued by families with the resources to take their new cat or kitten to the vet for a new cat checkup are usually fixed right away. 
It’s the remaining 15% of cats that miss out – not because their new family doesn’t understand the importance of spay/neuter but simply because they lack the front-end money to get it done.  This is where we—and many other organizations today -- help.  By fixing the pets adopted outside the shelter systems  by students, young parents, and disabled or elderly adults living on a fixed income.    And by doing so more cats will keep their homes forever -- which is the best outcome for everyone – the cats, their caregivers and their communities.   To learn more about our spay/neuter program visit
Happy Spay Day!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cat Spay of Santa Fe 2011 Update

During 2011 we funded the sterilization of 1,130 cats living in northern New Mexico.  This was our first full year of operation and it brings our program total to 1,589 cat sterilizations for 798 households -- and we hope to build on this growth in 2012.

Although we provide the funding for these spay/neuters, the real key to our effectiveness is the willingness of area spay/neuter and veterinary clinics to accept our vouchers as payment in full -- often at a significantly reduced price than they charge to the general public.   Establishing a centralized clinic to do our work would be much less effective.  Why?  Because the people who most need our help -- families with young children, students, the unemployed and those living on fixed incomes such as the elderly or the disabled -- can't or won't drive long distances to a spay/neuter clinic -- especially when it involves two trips -- one in the early morning to drop the cat off and the other in the late afternoon to pick them up.  Working through in-place veterinary clinics puts spay/neuter directly in the communities where our target group lives.  And in a region as spread out as northern New Mexico this is particularly important.

We especially thank the following clinics for their participation:
  • Animal Wellness Center, Santa Fe
  • Brainerd Animal Health Center, Sapillo
  • Espanola Humane Society, Espanola
  • Gruda Veterinary Hospital, Santa Fe
  • Pecos Valley Veterinary Clinic, Pecos
  • Sangre de Cristo Animal Hospital, Santa Fe
  • Santa Fe Humane Society Spay/Neuter Clinic, Santa Fe
  • Santa Fe Humane Society Mobile Spay/Neuter Clinic, Northern New Mexico
  • Valley Veterinary Clinic, Santa Fe
  • Vista Larga Animal Clinic, Edgewood
Often we hear "If you can't afford to get your cat fixed, you shouldn't have one", but we simply don't believe that's true.  There are many that can provide a good loving home for a cat who don't have the wherewithal to pay for the sterilization.  And -- often these are the same people -- that can benefit most from the unconditional love a cat can give them.  By helping them get their cats fixed we help cement the bonding -- eliminating the problems that most often cost these cats their homes -- kittening, yowling, fighting and spraying.   And in a culture that kills thousands and thousands of companion animals each year for lack of homes -- we think this is an important thing to do.