The idea of a pet overpopulation crisis in North America is nothing new. In fact, it has been a constant concern of animal lovers and welfare groups for at least a century. However, unique complications of the COVID pandemic have created a perfect storm that has tilted the balance between shelter capacity and homeless animals to an even greater extreme in 2021.
In general, summer is especially difficult for shelters and rescues as it is traditionally the slowest time of the year for adoptions and, of course, it falls right in the middle of Kitten Season. Now, struggling animal care facilities are also facing staffing shortages and other COVID-related problems that have the animal welfare community in a serious predicament.
A significant reason behind the staffing shortage is essential worker fatigue combined with compassion fatigue. As caregivers to living beings, shelter/rescue staff could not ride out the pandemic from home. This means that they have been working daily under a cloud of constant anxiety over their health and the health of their loved ones for about at least a year. That stress, piled atop the emotional stress that is inevitable in their field of work, has caused a lot of people to feel it necessary to leave their jobs.
Not only are there too few people to organize adoptions, but the adoption process has been slowed in many cases due to a backlog the spay/neuter surgeries. The backlog is a result of spay/neuter surgeries having been postponed during the height of the pandemic, as well as a shortage of veterinarians, which can be partly attributed to the same essential worker fatigue we are seeing with shelter staff. Longer adoption processes less space available for new intakes.
The challenges may seem overwhelming, but there are ways to help shelters and rescues ride this wave:
Adopt if you can!
Fostering makes a huge difference! Every animal safely cared for in a foster home means room for one more animal in a shelter so that two animals are effectively saved.
Volunteer at your local organization
Millions of kittens are born on the streets and in backyards of homes and businesses. We at Alley Cat Rescue will continue our aggressive TNR advocacy and programming to keep cats and kittens out of shelters, where they are often put to sleep even at times where overcrowding is less of a problem. ACR has a new project designed to get more municipal shelters to do or facilitate TNR…stay tuned for more information!
The Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), begun in 1992, is a global organization whose mission is “to improve the quality of cat information for the general public and to inspire, educate, and inform.” CWA invites authors and artists from around the world to submit their cat-related content for consideration to be awarded a Certificate of Excellence, which designates the content as high quality and a valuable source of information in the opinion of the CWA board.
The winners of the 2020 Certificate of Excellence Contest have just been released. Alley Cat Rescue is honored to have received certificates in several categories! Below is a list of the winning articles, along with a link to view them in their entirety.
Category: Written Articles – Wild Felines
“Your Kitty’s Wild Ancestor” by Louise Holton
Category: Periodical/National Circulation Publications
Category: Social Media Excellence – Rescue/Advocacy
ACR Facebook Posts
A “working cat” refers to a feral cat that is cared for (fed, sheltered, provided with medical care) by someone in exchange for the cat’s natural brand of pest control. Working Cats Programs grew out of TNR programs to provide the best option for unsocialized cats who had been trapped and sterilized but could not be returned to their original locations due to any number of reasons, such as the area being or having become unsafe for a cat to live. In such situations, rescues will hold onto the cats and put them up for adoption. These cats are not suited to be typical pets that live indoors and are handled often, but the people who adopt them are looking more for a partner than a pet.
Alley Cat Rescue has operated a Working Cats Program as a last resort for feral cats who could not stay in their outdoor homes. To date, we have helped 4,500 feral and semi-feral cats in seven states through our Working Cats Program. In one case, when the authorities of Riverside State Park refused to allow the 10 colonies living there to remain on the land, ACR relocated them as working cats. Although relocation is not our preference for any cat, in some situations such as this one there are no safe alternatives.
Over time, we have been happy to see more independent Working Cats Programs forming and county and city Working Cat Programs popping up around the country! One well-publicised program in Chicago has released 1,000 cats throughout the city to control a serious rat problem. Similar programs have already proven successful in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York City.
A list of Working Cats programs by state can be found at saveacat.org/shelters-with-working-cat-progrmas.html.
Alley Cat Rescue, Inc. (ACR) has completed a wide-spread online “Community Cat” survey of TNR groups and colony caretakers that shows a remarkable increase in TNR practices from 2012 to 2019. Survey data shows that the total number of community cats sterilized annually by respondents increased from 45,000 in 2012 to 62,000 in the most recent survey, which is an increase of about 4% per respondent.
The survey results have been analyzed by Animals 24-7, a nonprofit, independent online investigative newspaper and information service.
ACR’s 2019 data, combined with data from their earlier national surveys done in 2017 and 2012, along with data from Animals 24-7’s 1992 and 1996 national surveys, reveal a “48% decline in kitten births in monitored neuter/return colonies during the first years that neuter/return was practiced, followed by a long plateau, during which the kitten birth rate edged down only 4% more in the next 16 years, probably due to limited resources” (Animals 24-7). That meant the decline in kitten births from 1992 to 2012 was 52%. However, ACR’s survey data spanning the years of 2012 to 2019 show a significant revitalization of TNR; between 2012 to 2017, kitten births dropped 72% and between 2017 and 2019, they had dropped by 77%.
ACR’s most recent survey also reveals that extermination of colony cats is not an effective means of shrinking nor getting rid of colonies. Survey respondents who reported that animal control agencies had exterminated feral colonies in there area also reported that “39% were re-occupied by feral cats within less than a month; 71% within three months; 80% within five months; and 84% within six months” (Animals 24-7).
81% of ACR 2019 survey respondents reported cooperation with their TNR efforts from local animal control agencies and 37.5% reported actually receiving assistance from local animal control agencies. This reveals that government animal control is recognizing the importance of TNR.
Data analysis source: https://www.animals24-7.org/2021/04/24/tnr-boomed-before-covid-19-hit-alley-cat-rescue-survey-shows/
The 4th of July is right around the corner, and for many that means afternoon barbecues and big, booming fireworks shows. While people look forward to the delicious food and dazzling lights, the sights, smells, and sounds of celebration can be downright scary (and dangerous) for cats. Follow these five tips to keep cats safe over the holiday weekend.
By following these simple steps and keeping your cat’s comfort and safety in mind, you’ll be sure to have a stress-free and fun holiday weekend. Happy Independence Day from all of us at Alley Cat Rescue!
For over five years now, the Australian government has been under fire from international cat welfare groups for its use of poisons, shooting, and bounty offers to get a handle on its cat overpopulation problem. The government and some environmentalists are concerned about the feral cats’ predation on native and threatened species and when the sanctioning of cat-culling began, they believed there were around 20 million feral cats in Australia. However, since that time the estimate has been dramatically revised to somewhere around 2.2 million, yet the government continues to encourage and fund cat eradication.
One can get an unpleasant glimpse into the mindset of some of these leaders from House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy chair and Fairfax MP Ted O'Brien, is quoted by ABC Australia as saying the 2020 Federal parliamentary inquiry into overpopulation would approach the problem with an "independent, sort of dispassionate look at it all.” But these cats deserve compassion, especially considering that they were introduced to Australia in the first by people (European settlers) and were even brought in in large numbers specifically for rodent control. Add to that the fact there are an estimated 3.8 million owned cats in Australia, many of whom are free-roaming, who are equally responsible for predation of wildlife and it becomes clear that people are the true culprits in this scenario.
Ironically, due to the abundance of resources following an unusually rainy 2020, the large Australian state of New South Wales is experiencing an overpopulation crisis from mice. The infestation is seriously affecting the farming community there as the mice are eating or contaminating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of their crops. The mice are also becoming a direct health hazard, biting hospital patients!
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall has proposed an unnatural, short-sighted plan to use an extremely powerful poison (he called it “the most powerful poison that we can get our hands on”) called bromadiolone. Marshall has sought urgent approval from the Commonwealth’s APVMA to have and use bromadiolone, but many people are cautioning that such a potent poison will also kill the animals that prey on the mice. Charles Sturt University ecologist, Maggie Watson says the poison is "just too dangerous" for use anywhere in the environment. She warned "You could completely reduce the population of [native] birds of prey." She didn’t express concern over any feral or free-roaming cats being poisoned, but her point is well taken.
It is contradictory for the government to cull cats in order to protect natural wildlife yet risk natural wildlife in order to fix their moues infestation. That aside, could it be any more obvious that a safer method of rodent control and certainly a more intelligent, humane way to deal with a significant portion of the feral cat population would be to relocate sterilized cats (from many different colonies/areas to avoid a vacuum effect) to this large region? Marshall has even brought up the need for an effective solution because booms in the mouse population is a recurring problem, and cats would be on the job probably before people even realized it was happening. But instead of killing two birds with one stone, environmental decision makers prefer to kill millions of cats… with shot guns.
You can push back against Marshall's dangerous idea by signing ACR's petition!
Declawing pet cats was once a common practice, even the norm. Fortunately, the opposite is now true and many veterinary associations and clinics denounce the surgery (though many stipulate unless it is necessary for medical reasons). Recently there have been bills proposed to city lawmakers and even at the state level across the U.S. to legally ban declawing. As the debate about declawing gains momentum, ACR has curated key facts about this procedure that reveal just why it should be banned, everywhere.
Is Declawing Cats Illegal? How Can I Keep My Cat’s Claws Healthy?
The surgical name for declawing-- onychectomy, or “nail removal” — doesn’t describe what really happens during declawing. In a declawing procedure, a cat’s foot bones are amputated at the first joint of the toe.-
What happens during a declawing procedure?
Veterinarians may use a scalpel, electrosurgery, laser surgery, surgical scissors, or a sterile pair of sharp nail trimmers to break off the bone at the last joint. If this is not done properly, declawing may lead to nerve damage or bone spurs, which are incredibly painful bone outgrowths. After the bones are severed, the cat’s toes are closed with surgical glue, the paws are bandaged, and the cat stays in the hospital for two days.
After the bandages are removed, the cat returns home. But they do not return to their daily routine. Declawed cats must use paper litter for two weeks after the surgery to keep their usual litter from getting stuck on the toes. Not all cats will use paper litter. Some cats may refuse to use their litter boxes at all after declawing because it is too painful to dig after this procedure.
Declawing causes cats animals lifelong pain. Many cities have succeeded in banning declawing procedures, and these communities have taken the first step towards promoting healthy scratching behavior.
Where is declawing banned?
Declawing is outlawed in the United Kingdom, Australia and many other countries. You can find a full list of nations that ban declawing here. At least one bill to ban declawing statewide has been proposed in almost every U.S. state, but it may take years before we see widespread anti-declaw legislation in this country.
The first state to ban declawing was New York in 2019. In contrast, a number of cities in California including Berkley, Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Monica have banned declawing within their borders but the state as a whole refuses to do the same. In fact, California SB 762, passed into law in 2009) makes it impossible for cities to ban declawing or any other area of veterinary ‘expertise’ that had been common practice before 1/1/2010. Thankfully, the list of aforementioned cities had banned declawing before that date.
What are some alternatives to declawing?
There are many alternatives to this painful procedure.
How can I get involved with declaw legislation?
There has been some important progress in attitudes and treatment of community cats in Illinois. Most notably, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is no longer banning the trap-neuter-return (TNR) of feral cats on its lands. This adds Illinois to the list of states with ordinances that promote TNR (Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Utah, This will save the lives of many feral cats as the alternative of TNR programs is to euthanize the cats. Although the Department’s decision has been opposed by the Illinois Chapter of the Wildlife Society, which believes that free-roaming cats threaten native small animals such as birds and that TNR is not effective in decreasing feral cat populations, there are an overwhelming amount of studies that prove otherwise. “One peer-reviewed scientific study showed that in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, a “trap-neuter-return” program resulted in an average of 54% decrease from initial population levels of free-roaming cats and an average 82% decrease from peak levels.” (source)
The City Council of LaSalle, Illinois recognizes TNR as a viable solution to the city’s cat overpopulation dilemma. They signified their trust in TNR about one year ago by making a $500 donation to the most prevalent local animal welfare organization and practitioners of TNR, Safe House Animal Rescue League. After several years of TNR work, key problem areas have seen a significant drop in numbers of feral cats. Canal Street, for example, was once crowded with feral cats and kittens but now it is difficult to find any kittens there. Kudos to LaSalle for embracing TNR for their community cats!
Solutions for City Rats!
In Chicago, Illinois, the Tree House Humane Society animal shelter has released 1,000 sterilized and vaccinated feral cats throughout the city as a response to rat overpopulation. The shelter states that the cats chosen for this program, called “Cats at Work,” are too wild to be adopted out or kept long-term in the shelter. Essentially they are practicing TNR but showcasing it to city residents as an ecofriendly solution to their rat problem. Although the shelter is being strategic, they are not being dishonest! Urban environments that lack community cats usually experience an overgrowth of their rat population because city rats have very few other predators. We hope that the service the released cats are providing for Chicago will inspire the people there to treat them with respect and compassion.
The cats are put to work at businesses that are approved for putting out food and water for the cats, and providing shelter and care. In most cases the cats become beloved members of the community!
Using a drop trap to trap colony cats can be your best bet for a number of different situations. First, trappers often use drop traps to catch the first cat in a large colony. This is because it is possible to catch multiple cats at once, and using them may help to minimize skittishness after other members of the colony see fellow cats being trapped. Second, some cats, no matter how hard and for how long you try to trap them with a regular box trap, they are still just too weary to go inside. Other times, it can be used to selectively trap a specific cat, or a litter of kittens (perhaps along with their mother). In these instances, the drop trap becomes your new best friend.
Drop traps are large mesh boxes that are propped up and manually triggered with a rope or string. The trap should be set up on flat ground, and you should be working in teams of two, because of the trap's large size.. Use a wooden stick or a full bottle of water tied with string to prop up the trap, and leave enough string so that you can hide far enough away while holding onto the end. Place plenty of bait inside the trap in case other cats enter before the target. Bait the trap with plenty of food just in case cats you don’t want to trap wander in before your target. Once the correct cat is in the trap, spring the trap and voila! The elusive cat has now been caught. Just be sure to not spring the trap until the target cat is inside the trap, as if she sees other cats being trapped she will stay far away. Once caught, place a sheet over the trap and transfer the cat into a box trap. This will make it easier to handle and assist for transport.
While drop traps can be relatively costly to buy compared to the standard box trap, as well as rather difficult to handle and transport, they are a valuable resource for trapping hard to catch cats, a specific cat, or a litter of kittens. While they are commercial available, it is also possible for you to make your own DIY version.
The Tomahawk Live Trap offers popular drop traps. They can be viewed here.
If you're interested in building your own, find detailed instructions here.
The benefits of using a drop trap are wide ranging, and can make trapping faster and easier. Happy trapping!
While we are still in the midst of a global pandemic and uncharted territories, a surprising discovery involving cats and FIP has emerged with promising possibilities to a better understanding of COVID-19. In fact, cats may hold the key to overcoming the coronavirus.
While the outbreak of COVID-19 came as a shock to many, a similar scenario has already played out in a feline virus decades ago. Feline enteric coronavirus (FECV), the virus responsible for cats developing Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), emerged out of no where in the 1960s. However, scientists and researchers have still not pinpointed the origin of this virus, similar as we are currently still trying to trace back the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
While this situation is a novel one for humans, it has been seeing the clinical signs for years in cats and kittens infected with FIP. Most cats have no or mild symptoms when infected with FECV. They shed the virus for a short time and then recover. However, small number of infected cats end up developing full-blown FIP,
Although the FDA differentiates between animal and human health, there is potential for scientists, physicians, and researchers to gain further insight, and perhaps even an effective treatment, for COVID-19. One company based in California, Anivive Lifesciences, is applying their knowledge of FIP antiviral therapies to a potential therapy to be used by humans infected with COVID-19. The company has recently filed a pre-Investigational New Drug (pre-IND) to begin preclinical studies for the drug they use to treat FIP, called GC376, for treatment of COVID-19.
However, it is important to clarify that Anivive does not participate in any vivisection, and does not infect cats wtih either SARS-CoV-2 or FECV in their research. They rely on their current FIP data to better understand clinical comparisons during human trials. GC376 inhibits coronaviruses by blocking the action of a protein that the virus needs to replicate itself. In turn, this prevents cells from producing virus particles, which prevents the further spread of the infection through a host, either cat or a human. Anivive is increasing manufacturing capabilities and moving forward more quickly on formulation and stability studies.
Currently, humans are still playing catch-up when it comes to finding a cure or preventive vaccination for COVID-19. However, the information that scientists and researchers have extrapolated from cats infected with FECV and FIP gives a promising hope for a better understanding of SARS-CoV-19 and COVID-19, and hopefully, a chance at finding a cure.
Alley Cat Rescue is leading in the way in promoting humane and compassionate care for ALL cats.