Shelter Cats At Christmas. Let’s Think of Them

Cat at shelter usa

Photo by (photo modified by Michael).

In general, cats in conventional animal shelters are living through a stressful and hazardous time. It is probably the most hazardous and stressful time of their lives (depending on the individual shelter and cat).

We don’t have to go over the same ground to conclude that, in the USA, shelter cats in a typical shelter live on the edge. This is not a criticism. The shelters do a difficult job. At shelters, there is an enhanced risk of acquiring a contagious disease because there many animals living close together. A shelter is a prime environment for the spread of contagious diseases.

These are some typical animal shelter, infectious diseases:

  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Feline herpesvirus (FHV)
  • Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Feline Leukemia (FeLV)
  • Giardiasis
  • Hookworms
  • Panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Ringworm (dermatophytosis)
  • Roundworms, (Ascaridiasis)
  • Sarcoptic manage (Scabies)

If you read about cats you’ll know these diseases pretty well. When controls are inadequate in animal shelters, for whatever reason, a contagious disease can have a devastating impact by spreading throughout the shelter.

One well known example is the May 2010 announcement by the Ontario Society for the Protection of Animals (OSPCA) that they planned to euthanise all the animals in one of their shelters at Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. There had been an “epidemic” of ringworm amongst the animals. The shelter staff could not contain it. There appears to have been a failure in following preventative procedures. Vets advised or agreed that the best way to contain the disease was to kill all 350 animals. One hundred were killed until stopped under public protest. The extraordinary thing is that ringworm is not that problematic as a disease. It is difficult to clear up. It is also zoonotic – it can be easily transmitted to people. Playing devils advocate, I wonder if that was a factor in the decision to mass euthanize.

If a cat does not catch a disease, there is always the prospect of being put to sleep because no one wants him/her. Your chances of survival are further reduced if you are black and old.

In some shelters the numbers of rescued cats can reach a crisis point. Shelters can run at overcapacity. This can lead to increased and, sometimes, mass euthanasia. A typical example is the one described by Elisa at Greenville.

The bottom line is that the lives of cats are at the whim of the adopter and shelter management. It must be difficult for shelter staff to keep a proper perspective about the value of life at a shelter when there is so much easy euthanasia going on (at most shelters).

In conclusion, the risk of catching a disease is increased at a shelter but we don’t have statistics as to the numbers of cats euthanised for this reason.

As for the unwanted cat problem – oversupply – we have rough statistics; of the 6 to 8 million cats and dogs entering shelters in the USA annually, 3 to 4 million are adopted and 2.7 million are euthanised¹.  As can be seen, individual cats and dogs have about a 50% chance of getting out alive.

Let’s remember the shelter cats at Christmas. I feel for them. I can see them in my mind’s eye, frightened or anxious, unsure of what will happen next, disturbed perhaps by the sounds and the smells.  This is not the fault of shelters. It is a societal problem.

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Shelter Cats At Christmas. Let’s Think of Them — 9 Comments

  1. Good news for the area I live in. Pet Stores are no longer able to sell anything but rescues in the City of Phoenix. I hope the rest of our cities follow suit.

    It is a great time to adopt from a shelter, but do not give someone a pet they are unwilling to care for. That is the worst thing you can do to a poor animal.

  2. No surprise, I’m sure, but I can’t stand thinking about the cats in shelters.
    My heart bleeds.
    Probably, December 26th will be a huge kill day. I’m sure most shelters will just wait until then when holiday adoptions are over.

  3. It’s horrible to think of cats in Shelters being killed because no one wants them and what makes it even worse is that it’s to make room for more unwanted cats who will be eventually killed too.
    I can’t see how the staff/volunteers can stand working in those kill shelters unless they become hardened and think of cats as numbers, not individual loving creatures. I wonder how many pack in because they can’t take any more? How many have mental trauma from the job?
    I know from working for vets what it’s like to watch healthy animals die, it affected me for life. I couldn’t walk away because I felt I wanted to save the ones I could, but I would never do that job again, nor work in a kill shelter if I was American.
    When a person dies, even a wicked person, they are counted and registered and given a funeral and even mourned by their family.
    Yet day after day animals are killed, disposed of uncounted and unmourned.
    It’s a terribly cruel and sad world for many animals.

    • I think PTSD is rampant among shelter workers.
      I’ve mentioned before that I have seen some that have only what I can describes as “dead eyes”. No emotion, no spontaneity, just going through motions.

      • It’s terrible that most of the people who cause all this killing by relinquishing or dumping their cats like unwanted possessions, most likely don’t give them another thought.
        So a sensitive person working in a kill shelter suffers guilt and grief while ignorant uncaring people walk away and leave their cats to their fate.
        Working for vets I had to be strong for clients with very ill pets, many times, but it caught up with me later, I don’t see how anyone can watch animals die without being affected.

  4. Its horrible that this problem is man made and that people just won’t get their cats neutered. These poor cats that no one seems to want are the product of someones whim and are then discarded like an old toy thrown out before Christmas makes me so sad when I think of them 🙁

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