Caught in a bind: county shelter buckles under influx of homeless cats
By CHELSEY PLETTS
MIDDLEBURY — The Addison County Humane Society has rarely turned away an animal during its 34-year history as a safe haven for the lost, abandoned, abused or surrendered.
Now, however, the shelter is seeing a critical number of cats pouring into the facility at a rate that Executive Director Jackie Rose is concerned they cannot keep up with.
“We are facing a cat overpopulation crisis,” Rose said. “The number of cats and unwanted cats that are in our communities is reaching really epidemic proportions.”
The shelter is stacked with cages full of cats and kittens squeezed into any available space — empty dog kennels and even Rose’s office are fair game. Felines ranging from oversized striped tabbies to playful orange kittens are dropped off at the shelter on a daily basis. Some of the cats were once loved family members while others are feral.
When Rose began working at the shelter a year and a half ago, there were about 85 to 90 animals. Today, the Addison County Humane Society is home to around 200 animals, approximately 60 of which are in foster care. And, Rose said, the numbers keep going up.
“The economy has definitely had an impact on the number of animals that we’re seeing,” said Rose. “We’re seeing more and more animals come into the shelter that current owners can no longer keep or maintain because of the cost associated with owning an animal.”
People relocating due to job loss are also a contributing factor to the increase in cats. Some owners are forced to surrender their cats because they are unable to keep the animal in their new location. And it is not just house cats that were forced to give up their spot on a comfy couch that are coming into the shelter, but feral and stray cats as well.
“We also unfortunately have seen an increase in the number of strays coming in,” said Rose. “It’s hard to say how many of those strays were once owned and they have been abandoned or just strays that have been out in the community and have been reproducing.”
FERAL BARN CAT PROGRAM
In order to keep these wild cats out of the shelter, the Addison County Humane Society has started a Feral Barn Cat Outreach Program where the shelter will provide traps, or trap the animals themselves, to people who have feral cats living in their barn or around their property. Then the shelter will spay or neuter and vaccinate the cat free of charge, and release it back to the site.
A female cat can produce up to three litters a year, and of those three litters, she will have an average of six to eight kittens per litter, said Rose — this means a lot more kittens that will crowd the already overpopulated shelter.
“At least what we’re doing is beginning to have an impact on the number of animals that are procreated,” said Rose. “That’s really a community effort — recognizing the need for us to all work together to help spay and neuter these cats. We don’t need any more kittens roaming around.”
The Addison County Humane Society is a no-kill shelter, which means the shelter makes a commitment to each animal that comes through its doors not to euthanize that animal for space.
“We just don’t believe in doing that,” Rose said. “We believe in the animals we have, we need to take the best care of them and provide the best opportunity to find them a loving home.”
The no-kill philosophy, however, is part of the reason why the shelter finds itself in the midst of an overpopulation crisis as funds are quickly being depleted. The Humane Society does not receive any county, state or federal funding and relies primarily on private donations and occasional grant money.
SEEKING RESIDENTS’ HELP
To keep its doors open to future needs, the Addison County Humane Society is asking the community to partner with them not only by spaying and neutering all animals, including domestic feral animals, but to help provide foster care. Also, for those who are forced to surrender their animals, the shelter is asking that they cooperate with a waiting list, holding onto the animal until their circumstances force them to give it up.
“We’re going to ask people even more so to work with us on a waiting list,” Rose said. “Unfortunately, people often think ‘we’ll take it to the humane society, they’ll take care of it.’ And the problem is we have, but we’re out of space — that’s just the bottom line.”
Rose said area residents can also help by swinging by the shelter before thinking of going to a breeder or picking up a free kitten from a litter.
And, she pointed out, there are several advantages.
“You adopt an animal from us, kitten or adult cat, that animal will come with all of their shots, they will have had full vet examinations, they will be spayed or neutered,” said Rose. “When you get a kitten for free, it’s going to cost you much more than the adoption fee.”
To get area residents into the shelter to see available cats, the Addison County Humane Society will be putting on an open house adopt-a-thon on Aug. 15-16 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shelter will be running special promotions during this weekend where any animal adopted will receive free microchipping as well as goodie bags filled with toys, collars, food dishes, food and litter.
“We are really hoping that people will come see the cats we have and adopt somebody,” Rose said.