Routine cat sterilization began in the 1950s when the introduction of kitty litter enabled cats to live indoors — and their intact behaviors (yowling, spraying and kittening) that were perfectly acceptable when they were barn or yard cats became unacceptable. As their caregivers started complaining about how difficult they were to live with, vets offered the “fix” of sterilization which ended most of the noxious behaviors and sterilized cats became accepted (and cherished) indoor pets.
Today, some 85% of pet cats are routinely fixed — but that leaves some 15% unfixed — and in our experience (10 years working with both pet and feral cat caregivers in Michigan and 4 years working with pet caregivers in New Mexico), these unfixed pet cats are the ultimate source of most of the feral colonies formed each year and most of the cats and kittens delivered to animal control shelters.
In managing our Michigan TNR program (nearly 2,000 colonies), we continually received requests to fix new cats that had just “shown up” (frequently pregnant or with kittens). Initially we thought, well, that’s okay — it’s nice that these free‐roaming cats found a colony to join. But when some of these cats started showing up in boxes — on doorsteps — and kept “showing up” year after year — the realization started to dawn that these cats weren’t just free‐roaming — but abandoned pet cats.
Then, in managing our low‐income spay/neuter programs (nearly 2,000 participants in Michigan and now 2,700 participants in New Mexico) and talking with the caregivers, we began to understand what is happening. Most people find the behaviors of unfixed pet cats (male or female) annoying — and most know the solution is to fix them — but when it’s stretching the budget just to buy cat food and litter, paying for sterilization (even with a low‐cost program) isn’t out of the question, but it's a significant burden that’s very easy to delay. And then when the intact behaviors happen to strike a family member as intolerable — or when the cat becomes pregnant and the family can’t deal with the prospects of a litter (or more likely, yet another litter) — and the family sees their choices as taking the cats to an animal control shelter (where they believe the cat will be killed) or dropping them off at a house or neighborhood that looks “cat friendly” — it’s hard to see them as “bad” or “careless” — or “irresponsible” — more just human. Our program offers these caregivers a third alternative — free and local access to spay/neuter when they are committed to the lifelong care of their cat.
Adoption and TNR programs are active throughout the country to deal with the problem caused by leaving this 15% of pet cats intact — and we support and applaud their efforts. But — we’ve also come to the conclusion that the cat population cannot become stabilized unless and until that 15% of unfixed pet cats is significantly reduced — and in our opinion that can happen only when cat sterilization services are both free and convenient for all cats. And that is our focus.