April 5, 2010
The focus of our Cat Spay of Santa Fe program is to keep the cats most at risk of being abandoned or relinquished to shelters in their homes by making available free and convenient access to spay/neuter services.
Today we think of cat spay/neuter in terms of population control — but routine cat sterilization actually began in the 1950s with the introduction of kitty litter — long before cat population was seen to be a problem. Kitty litter brought cats indoors — and behaviors that were perfectly acceptable outdoors (yowling, spraying, fighting) became unacceptable indoors. As their caregivers started complaining, vets offered the "fix" of sterilization. Fixing the cats did in fact end most of the noxious behaviors — and 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), these unfixed pet cats are the ultimate source of most of the kittens born each year.
In managing our TNR program (almost 2,000 colonies), we continually received requests to fix a few new cats that had just "shown up" (frequently pregnant). 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.
Then, in managing our low-income spay/neuter program (another almost 2,000 participants) and talking with the families, we began to understand what was happening. Most people find the behaviors of unfixed pet cats (male or female) very annoying — and most know the solution is to fix them — but when it's stretching the budget just to buy food and litter, paying for sterilization (even with a low-cost program) isn't out of the question, but it is a significant burden that's very easy to put off. And then when the intact behaviors happen to strike a famiy member as intolerable — or when the cat becomes pregnant and the family can't deal with the prospect of a litter (or more likely, yet another litter) — and the family sees their choices as taking the cat 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".
TNR programs are active all over the country to deal with this problem — and we support and applaud their efforts. But we've come to the conclusion that the colonies established under these programs cannot be stabilized until that 15% of unfixed pet cats is significantly reduced — and in our opinion, that can happen only when sterilization services are both free and convenient.
So that's why, in New Mexico, we've chosen to focus first on the pet cats of low-income families — living indoors or out. If we can significantly reduce the abandonments and kitten births of these cats, TNR has a fighting chance of working. We encourage those doing TNR to continue to do so — and we'll try to help on our end.