Remember Me Thursday is a global movement to bring awareness to pets waiting in shelters for homes. Sadly, a lot of them die before that happens. Those who support Remember Me Thursday and are spreading the word, hoping to change that. But if you want change, you have to start with the facts. And the facts about cats in shelters are very different from dogs in shelters. I want to focus on that.
Here are some statistics from the ASPCA:
- 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats enter the shelter system every year. That total of 6.5 million has declined from the 2011 number of 7.2 million… but much of that decline was dogs. In 2011, it was 3.9 million dogs, and if you do the math, it shows that the number of cats has only declined by 100,000 (.6 million fewer dogs versus .1 million fewer cats).
- More cats (860,000) than dogs (670,000) are euthanized in the U.S. annually. That’s nearly a difference of 200,000!
- This one is really depressing: About 710,000 pets that wind up in shelters are returned to their owners… only 90,000 of them are cats.
- The only way shelter cats and dogs are equal is in adoptions. 3.2 million of them find homes, and the number is about the same for dogs and cats: 1.6 million each. That’s still 3.3 million adoptions short so there is much work to be done.
Why are the shelter numbers stacked against cats in so many ways?
Because shelters are really the worst places possible for a cat’s personality, temperament and instincts. The shelter environment, with its small metal cages, is stressful for cats. They can’t hide, they have no room to move around, and their highly sensitive noses are assaulted with strange, scary smells. Cats are territorial creatures, and in a shelter they have no place to call their own. This stress lowers their immune systems, and they are more susceptible to illness.
When a potential adopter walks into a shelter’s cat room, they are faced with fearful, depressed cats. Cats who are withdrawn. Cats who may be aggressive only because of stress. Cats who are sneezing. Only the boldest, most outgoing cats can stand out in these rooms, or the youngest, cutest kittens. (Binga was both when my human saw her at the Lacy Street Animal Control in downtown Los Angeles in October, 2000.) The rest of them — the cats with great personalities, but are too scared to show how awesome they are — get overlooked.
Many shelters are working to change that: creating cat rooms with an environment that better fits the feline nature. Soliciting fosters so that cats don’t have to sit in a cold, sterile shelter atmosphere. Coming up with enrichment techniques to lower the stress levels for shelter cats. But much work still needs to be done.
Yes, shelter adoption needs to be promoted, but there is more.
Only 31% of cats come from shelters, but do you know the other ways people find cats? It’s not breeders — the percentage of those cats going to homes is a measly 3%. Here’s the reality: 28% come from friends or relatives and 27% are strays. What does this tell you? We need to work harder at spaying and neutering both owned cats and stray cats. Too many of them are breeding this is helping to create bad situations for cats at shelters.
The problem — and solution — for shelter cats is complex, but it can be overcome. Find ways to improve cats’ lives at shelters. Spay and neuter the strays, and the family cats too. That is the best way to honor shelter cats today — and all year round.