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:
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.
Ref: (1) humanesociety.org
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