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Cats and kittens present some unique challenges for council pounds and shelter managers. This is due to a number of factors related to cat physiology and community attitudes.
There are generally more unwanted kittens than puppies in Australia. A cat is harder to contain in a backyard than a dog and much more likely to stray from its owner’s property, thereby increasing the chances of breeding if they are not desexed. Their relative self-sufficiency and hunting ability lets cats thrive in towns and cities, further contributing to the number of unwanted kittens. It is estimated that for every 100 residents there are 5 free living cats that are getting some food and shelter from the community. The vast majority are healthy and in good condition but are not desexed and are a major source of unwanted kittens and cat related complaints to councils.
Cats are also polycyclic, meaning a female cat can become pregnant at the same time as she is nursing a litter. And kittens grow fast – most people would be surprised to learn that a cat can breed from just 16 weeks of age.
Added to these factors is the often relaxed approach towards cat ownership. To some degree, allowing cats to roam is socially acceptable – some even say necessary for a cat’s wellbeing. This attitude is declining in light of greater concern about the health and safety of roaming cats, and their toll on wildlife.
These factors mean that strategies to reduce the number of unwanted kittens born in the first place, is a more effective strategy to reduce euthanasia than re-homing strategies.
This evidence is compelling. Shelter and council pound managers should offer free or subsidised desexing for cats, particularly for kittens between eight and 16 weeks of age in suburbs generating the highest number of unwanted cats and kittens have decreased euthenasia. People in financial hardship may be able to pay up to $50 for their cat to be desexed.
It’s also very important for owners to have their cat identified with a microchip which has their current contact information on it. Sadly only 9% of cats entering shelters have a microchip and of those 37% have incorrect contact information, and these cats have the highest risk of euthanasia.
Many owners may not immediately look for their lost cat, assuming it will come home eventually. Many councils in Australia only have a 72 hour minimal holding period for cats, after which they can be legally euthanased. It is critically important that owners of lost cats immediately contact their local council pound and shelter. However many lost cats are in fact within a 5 house radiius of their home, hiding in fear. It is vital that owners do a very thorough search including under neighbours decks, houses, in garages, behind bushes and in other hiding places, because this is where the majority of lost cats are eventually found.
It is important for the health, happiness and longer lifespan of a cat that it is secure in its owner’s property. There are many risks faced by roaming cats, for example, other cats, dogs, cars, disease and exposure to the elements.
Electronic boundary fence systems are endorsed by most welfare agencies in the USA, but not by some welfare agencies in Australia because of concerns over the welfare impact. A recent UK study found that long-term exposure to an electronic containment system with clear pre-warning was not associated with reduced cat welfare. Where physical fencing is not practical, or as an additional security to a physical fence, for example when the risks are high when your home is close to a busy road, electronic boundary fencing (also called invisible fencing) can protect your pet. Reputable installers rather than DIY are recommended, because they will assist in training your pet to learn about the new fencing.