(the shelter named in this opinion piece are in Small Town, but I bet you've got shelters in your own town with discount spay/neuter programs)
Tomorrow, February 23, is officially Spay Day as declared by the Humane Society of the United States, and it’s no wonder. The numbers are remarkable—70,000 puppies and kittens are born in this country every day. In contrast, only 10,000 human beings are born in the same 24-hour time span, and this ratio is unsustainable.
A few weeks ago, I was tending to my two well-fed and pampered house cats when I spotted a stray kitten in my backyard. He had managed to crawl under the fencing but couldn’t seem to find his way out. When I opened the gate and called to him, the little guy came trotting over to me, meowing like he’d finally found his mother. I picked up the affectionate and purring kitten and was saddened to find he was skin and bone, and he was filthy. He smelled as if he had spent a few nights in another animal’s musky forest den and then rolled around in something foul.
Our house has a two-cat limit, so the kitten would not find a home here, but later that night ahead of an impending snowstorm, my husband and I found him huddled against a landscape light for warmth, and we brought him into the garage. I gave him a box to sleep in and some food and water, and I named him Oscar. I gave him a bath to make him a little less musky, and I kept him until the Cats ‘N’ Us shelter opened the following evening.
The shelter gladly accepted Oscar, even though staff members said they sometimes receive as many as 25 cats in one night. They looked after him and made sure he was healthy enough for adoption, and he is now ready for a permanent home—fully fed, loving and odor free.
Oscar was no feral kitten wandering in my yard. This was an animal that was accustomed to human interaction and that knew a sap for lost and lonely kittens when he saw one. He was also an animal that had been neglected and allowed to go hungry. The kitten was just one of more than 70 million unclaimed cats in this country, a number that will only grow if more pet owners don’t begin spaying or neutering their animals instead of allowing them to breed unchecked.
Altering our pets has become essential because cats and dogs reproduce in such large numbers, creating a huge population of unwanted animals. A pair of cats and their offspring can produce up to 420,000 kittens in just seven years, and a pair of dogs can be the forebears of 67,000 puppies in just six. Of those cats and dogs, more than 12 million are euthanized every year because there are not enough homes for them, and that number doesn’t include the animals that die from abuse or neglect at the hands of their owners.
Even though spaying or neutering a pet can cost half as much as euthanizing it, altering an animal can still be expensive, and the most responsible pet owners who simply can’t afford the procedure can find themselves with an armload of extra kittens or puppies. So, local agencies are providing help.
The Humane Society operates RASCAL, a mobile reduced-rate spaying and neutering clinic that is open once a month or so. Their next scheduled opening, March 6, is nearly booked solid, but they will be open again April 23 and are accepting appointments for that date right now.
The Cats ‘N’ Us Shelter in Dover offers coupons for the spaying and neutering of any cat, whether it was adopted from the shelter or not. And they offer the Ruth Lane Spay-Neuter Program that alters cats for far less than the average cost.
If another abandoned kitten like Oscar were to find his way into my yard, the staff at the shelter and I would see he was well cared for, but wouldn’t it be better if we pet owners took the proper steps to avoid all of these unwanted animals in the first place? After all, there are only so many of us saps to go around.
The photo is of stinky Oscar the day he arrived at my door. He's still looking for a home.