Phone rings… “Hi, last winter, a stray cat came to my garden. It was cold and I felt sorry for her, so I started feeding her. You know, I would hate to see an animal suffer. Then, in March, she had a litter of kittens, but it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them! But, at the beginning of the summer, she had another litter of kittens. 7 of them! And now, I think she is pregnant again and I can’t find homes for the kittens. I don’t mind feeding her as she keeps the mice away, but I can’t possibly keep all of them. I don’t know what to do, can you please help?”
This is a very common type of call received by animal welfare organisations and our answer is simply to have the cat and her kittens neutered straight away before the situation gets completely out of hand. We discuss with the carer a way to finance the project and proceed to have the whole family neutered. Then, maybe a couple of kittens may find a home, but at least they won’t be having kittens. The problem is solved, but is it really?
Let’s rewind a little, back to spring time: “it was fine, the farmer down the road took all four of them!” The alarm bell in my head is ringing! Now, were those kittens neutered before going to the farm? Did the farmer get them neutered? The answer is more than likely no.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the following spring. The farmer is happy, his little cats (3 females and a male) are doing a good job on the farm. In April though, all three females give birth to a litter of kittens each. It is their first litter and they only have two kittens each. “Sure,” the farmer thinks, “a few more cats might come in handy; I have a big farm! And maybe Jo will take a couple for his own farm.” It’s still all fine, isn’t it? Yes, except that during the summer, they give birth to more kittens, and again at the beginning of winter, except that those mostly die because of the severe weather.
Two years later, the farmer is looking at all the cats on his farm. There are so many of them that he cannot feed them properly anymore. His three little female cats have become useless at killing the rats and mice as they are so exhausted from giving birth, as for the tom, he is constantly chasing the females and has been seen at all the neighbouring farms. Their offsprings are no good either, they have also started giving birth constantly, and now the younger generations are all sickly because they are inbred. The farmer is looking at all the cats (he can’t even count how many there are) and is scratching his head “what to do?”. He must admit that he did try to drown the kittens like his father and his grand-father used to do, but the females are very good at hiding the kittens in the hay, and to be honest, he likes the cats and does not want to harm them. Maybe he should bring them to the vet to have them euthanised? But, he cannot even catch the cats; they have gone completely wild! He’ll talk to the vet though and see what he thinks…
The vet is not too keen on having animals euthanised like that and if the farmer can’t catch the cats, how could he? He’s heard of organisations doing Trap-Neuter-Return though, maybe they could help? So the farmer gets in touch with such an organisation. At first, he has a fit when he hears what it will cost, but it has to stop, and he needs his cats to be healthy so that they can do their job on the farm. All the cats and kittens get trapped, most of them are neutered, but a few have to be euthanised as they are too sick. They come back to the farm and a few weeks later, they look a lot healthier and the farm is once more clear of rats. The farmer is still giving out at the vet bill, but he is glad that things have now gone back to normal. Next time, he’ll make sure that the cats are neutered beforehand. “Now, if only Jo could do the same thing on his farm, because how many does he have now? A good 30 for sure!”
Can you remember what the caller said initially? “I would hate to see an animal suffer.” Of course, she hadn’t realised what would happen as the farmer is a good guy and wouldn’t harm an animal, but by rehoming unneutered kittens, she has unknowingly been responsible for a great deal of suffering. Or maybe she thought that it wasn’t her problem? How about when the cats start to wander away from the farm because there isn’t any food and start to come to her garden where she is still feeding the little stray, the mother of them all? Does it become her problem then?
I think that in the work we do, convincing people to have kittens neutered before rehoming is actually the biggest challenge. Sometimes, it’s just because they don’t know that kittens can be neutered at such an early age (see info here), but most of the time, they don’t see the point since they are going to find “good homes” for the kittens. Why should it be their responsibility? Times and times again, we explain that if these are actually good homes, then the adopter will not mind giving a donation to cover for the cost of neutering. In fact, they are quite happy to do so since it saves them the bother of having to bring the kittens. In other cases, they think that it is not their problem since the cat isn’t actually theirs. Maybe so, but we all need to start taking responsibility if we want to put a stop to the problem of cat over-population. It is not one individual’s problem, it actually has become a society’s problem and we all need to start taking responsibility.
Disclaimer: the story above is fictional, although it is based on real experiences. It wasn’t written with the intention of criticising anyone, but rather with the intention of educating. Take responsibility too: educate those around you and spread the word about the importance of neutering!