Where does your kitty come from?
When I met Jade, she was living on the streets in the Bronx. It was January of my first winter in New York after graduating from college in Florida, and I was acclimating to the cold weather (and bulking up my newly-defunct Florida wardrobe). So, when I heard that a tiny black cat with big green eyes and matted fur followed my friend home in the snow, my heart melted. I could barely handle the sub-zero weather, and I had three square meals a day, a big winter coat, and a warm apartment to come home to.
I took her in to “foster her for a few weeks.” A few weeks turned into a few months. Then, one weekend, my boyfriend went to visit his parents. I sulked for the first night he was away. I woke up the next morning with Jade curled up in the crook of my arm, and I was smitten. She was my cat.
For every cat like Jade now – spayed or neutered and living in a forever home – there’s another who’s homeless. According to some estimates, there are around 70 million stray cats in the U.S. Shelters take in millions of cats each year, but many of them are euthanized, even though they’re healthy, in the absence of a family to take them in.
Why is cat overpopulation such a huge problem?
This article is the first in a three-part series we’re working on here at the Dr. Catsby blog looking at the state of cat rescue work in the U.S. This week, we’ll investigate cat overpopulation, its causes, and what you can do to help.
So, why are cat overpopulation and homelessness such huge problems? It’s not out of a lack of love for cats. Just scroll through any Facebook feed and you’ll see tons of funny felines. And the numbers back up this cultural love affair with kitties. 35 percent of households in the U.S. have at least one pet cat, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). And the total number of companion cats in the country is 85.8 million.
When I first started researching this article, I thought the problem might be that people buy their pet cats from breeders, leaving stray and shelter cats to languish. But I quickly learned that’s not it, either. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 27 percent of pet cats are strays before they join their families, like Jade was. Another 31 percent are adopted from a shelter or Humane Society, and 28 percent from friends and relatives. That means 86 percent of pet cats were rescued from homelessness! And only 9 percent of cat owners report buying from a breeder or private party.
It seems that breeders and pet stores are not the main cause of cat homelessness. But, what about spaying and neutering? After all, domesticated cats breed earlier and more often than their evolutionary ancestors. According to the ASPCA, just two cats could create a population of over 2,000 in two and a half years.
Cat owners seem to understand the importance of spaying and neutering. 88 percent of companion cats in the U.S. are spayed or neutered. But, according to the ASPCA, only 10 percent of animals that shelters take in have been fixed. That means, while cat owners tend to make the responsible choice, there’s still a huge population of homeless cats producing even more homeless cats every year.
So, what can we do to help homeless cats?
The biggest cause of cat overpopulation, and stray cats, is the sheer volume of cats still having kittens even while millions of cats are homeless or euthanized in shelters. So, to start, make sure your pet kitties are spayed or neutered, and encourage your friends and family to spay and neuter their pets, too! You can also support spay/neuter-and-release programs in your area.
In our next Dr. Catsby blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the landscape of shelters, rescue organizations, and animal advocacy work in the country – and the best ways to support this work.
In the meantime, I want to hear your thoughts! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and tell me about how your kitties found their way into your family. Tell me what you think about the overpopulation problem, and the work you’ve done toward a world where every stray cat finds a loving home.
With love for cats in homes, shelters, and on the street,
Hannah and Jade