There's a 'cat crisis' at Twin Cities animal shelters
By Bob Shaw
Where's the love? That's what Minnesota's cats should be asking themselves, at the grim evidence that Minnesotans seem to be loving their cats less — and their dogs more.
In shelters, abandoned cats should be looking jealously at their canine colleagues — because cat adoptions are falling in Minnesota, even as dog adoptions increase.
"We have a cat crisis," said Deb Balzer, spokeswoman for the Animal Humane Society, whose five Twin Cities facilities are being engulfed by a river of 70 unwanted cats per day.
At the cat rescue group SCRAM, adoptions have plummeted by half in one year.
"Oh, the calls ... the calls ...," sighed SCRAM founder Laura Johnson, who talks with an endless stream of fed-up cat owners.
"People want to move, and the cats can't come with them. They ask for help with cat food or kitty litter," she said. "There are no jobs. Unemployment has run out. They can't get medical insurance."
The widening love-gap between dogs and cats is a national trend, said Nancy Peterson, the Cat Programs manager for the Humane Society of the U.S.
Nationally, there are more cats in shelters, while the number of dogs in shelters is remaining steady. Many shelters are being forced to convert dog kennels into cat cages, Peterson said.
Dog owners, like dogs, are more loyal. About 30 percent of dogs in shelters are reclaimed by owners, compared with about 4 percent for cats, according to the national Humane Society.
Pet owners lavish money on dogs (an average of $225 annually) more than cats ($203).
And now, dogs are finding more homes. In fact, Minnesotans are so eager to adopt dogs that the Animal Humane Society imported nearly 1,000 dogs from Oklahoma and Georgia last year.
"People want dogs. That is why we are able to help other rescue groups with dogs," Balzer said.
Why is there such a difference in human feelings for dogs vs. cats?
One reason is simple math. There are far more cats than dogs. Cats — nature's perfect breeding machines — can get pregnant at the age of 4 months and can have up to three litters a year.
About 42,000 kittens are born every day in the U.S., compared with 10,000 people, according to the group Spay USA. The feral cat population is about 80 million — with an estimated 480,000 in the Twin Cities.
Cats dominate shelters, accounting for 58 percent of the animals taken in by the Animal Humane Society in 2009.
That imbalance increases the urgency, Balzer said, of finding more loving homes for cats. Dogs don't have that problem.
"A puppy's face, people come running for. But cats have a different role in society," Balzer said. "This is a community problem."
With adoptions down, the Humane Society will have about 3,000 more unwanted cats to deal with this year.
Officials are trying to find them homes. The group announced this month that it has slashed adoption fees to $50 for a neutered, vaccinated, microchip-implanted cat.
And it is extending a two-for-one sale. The "Double the Love" program allows families to adopt two adult cats for the price of one — $50.
The Humane Society neuters thousands of cats each year and advocates for all owners to neuter cats. Because of such programs, it slashed euthanizations in 2009 by 9 percent to 11,000 animals — most of them cats.
But this year, it will be difficult to keep euthanizations down. Balzer wouldn't estimate how many more cats would be killed in 2010, but she did say, "Euthanasia is a reality."
"Does it break our hearts? Absolutely," she said. "Are we looking for any opportunities to help? Absolutely."
It's too soon to tell if the new programs will be enough to deal with the stampede of incoming cats.
Last July's cat adoptions at the Humane Society were down 15 percent. Adoptions in the two-for-one "Double the Love" program have dropped by 36 percent in one year.
For SCRAM founder Johnson, the stress of dealing with so many unwanted cats is grinding.
She was recently called to help one female cat in Blaine, abandoned when her owners moved. Johnson said the cat has been sitting by the back door for weeks.
"She cries and cries. The neighbor feeds her. And now she has had two kittens," said Johnson — the start of another feral colony.
"It makes me crazy," she said.
Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433.