Shelters struggle with feline influx

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Adoptable cats peek out of their kennels at the Humane Society & SPCA of Hancock County. The shelter has been full for most of July and therefore only able to take in cats once another has been adopted. The Wyandot County Humane Society, on the other hand, accepts any cats but must euthanize in order to make room. (Photo by Randy Roberts)


Essentially, “kitten season” is every 64-67 days.

That’s the feline gestation period and, with each litter averaging three to five kittens, it’s enough to keep animal shelters very busy — and very crowded. Depending on the shelter’s philosophy on euthanasia, it may be hard to find a place to take in a beloved pet’s offspring or stray cats and kittens roaming residents’ yards.

For much of July, for instance, the Humane Society & SPCA of Hancock County has been full and therefore not accepting cats.

“We maybe have 30 cat kennels, but some of them can house multiples. So at any given time we can have 30 to 90 cats,” said kennel manager Natalie Reffitt. “When it’s at the higher end, we can have a mom with seven babies (in one kennel).”

Most cats available for adoption at the shelter are found and taken there by residents, often those who are frustrated to find said cats using their yard as a bathroom. In times like this, when the shelter is at capacity and is not accepting new cats, director of operations Paula Krugh suggests residents keep the animal, so long as it is not too wild; check back with the shelter in about a week; or contact another rescue organization in the area.

One such organization is the Wyandot County Humane Society, located in Upper Sandusky. Founder and director Linda Balz said the shelter has never turned away an animal since it opened in 1985 and, because of this policy, takes in animals from all over the state. Most are referred from other shelters or rescue organizations.

“Every shelter has too many cats if they’re good,” Balz said, noting in a recent 30-minute period, shelter staff took in 26 cats — 16 of which came from the same person. In 2016, the shelter took in just over 10,000 animals, three-quarters of them cats or kittens.

While the Hancock County shelter refuses to euthanize in order to make room for new additions — “We would rather take them in as we can take them than euthanize for an empty kennel for a new cat,” Krugh said — Balz operates under the philosophy that it’s more compassionate for an animal to be humanely euthanized than left to die unattended. She recalled instances of homeless dogs or cats with tails literally frostbitten off, arguing that it’s better for an animal to die in the arms of a trained, caring person than alone and scared in the wild.

“Honestly, we don’t know how a shelter can look at a desperate animal or a desperate person and turn them away and call themselves a ‘humane’ society,” Balz said.

She described a shelter with “every cat cage stuffed to the gills,” as animals are being brought from other counties whose local shelters turn them away. Cats are “euthanized on a manageable scale,” based on the animal’s adoptability or overall happiness.

Krugh, on the other hand, points out the Hancock County shelter has taken in kittens that have needed an eye or a leg removed, then gone on to be adopted, despite their seemingly “unadoptable” state.

She noted that every shelter is chartered with its own set of rules and regulations, and the Findlay establishment is set up as a no-kill facility. This means that unless a cat is particularly vicious, or too sick to be saved, no cat is euthanized to make room for an incoming animal.

“We don’t just make them go away. We want them to be adopted to a good home,” Krugh said. “We would much rather get them through the system, get them adopted, have them spayed or neutered and have them healthy.”

That, of course, is the crux of the problem. No matter their approach, both shelter directors agree the responsibility lies with the public failing to spay or neuter their cats.

“If just two cats get through the cracks and don’t get spayed or neutered … it becomes just a devastating state of affairs for animals,” Balz said.

Krugh said there are several known feral cat colonies in Findlay, including one near Fox Run Manor, one near the Trenton Avenue motels, one on the south end and a large colony on Queenswood Drive. She said the colonies form when a resident begins feeding just one feral cat, which soon attracts other cats who begin to mate.

“People get in over their heads with cats very quickly,” Krugh said.

“This cycles over and over,” Reffitt added.

As tempting as it may be to feed the cats, shelter workers strongly advise residents against it.

The Hancock County shelter also works with local volunteers who use live traps to catch feral cats and bring them in to be spayed or neutered to help keep the colony from growing. These cats also receive a rabies vaccination, as per state law, along with a tattoo or an ear tip to indicate that it’s been altered before being rereleased into the wild.

“One of our dreams is a trap/neuter/release program,” Krugh said, noting the volunteers who live-trap feral cats pay for the cats’ alteration out of their own pockets.

The Findlay shelter charges $60 per cat for the alteration surgery, plus $15 for a rabies vaccine. These services are open to anyone, and all cats are spayed or neutered, checked for feline leukemia and given a rabies vaccine before being put on the adoption floor.

Krugh notes the shelter does not receive tax dollars or money from the heart-wrenching ads people donate to on TV. Instead, the shelter operates on money from fundraisers and private donations, including estate endowments.

“We raise all our money locally and it’s not your tax dollars at work,” she said.

Balz believes there is no such thing as a “no-kill” shelter, pointing out that many of these animals — especially kittens — will die if they are not taken in. She said national organizations are more inclined to give funding to shelters labeled “no-kill,” further exacerbating the cycle.

Further, she feels shelters with high adoption rates exist because they only take in adoptable animals. These, too, are more likely to receive funding.

“It’s kind of something that’s gone wrong in the sheltering community over all these years,” she said. “You can’t put your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Griteman: 419-427-8477
Twitter: @brennagriteman


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