Solving the cat overpopulation crisis

Off to be spayed and neutered - Photo by Shamey Jo (Flickr)

People think that in the United States of America there is a cat overpopulation crisis. When you read the statistics you can believe it. There is a bland almost calm acceptance of this crisis. Millions of cats are deliberately killed in "shelters" every year and people just carry on as before with little effort to address the cat overpopulation problem. If we are killing cats by the million yearly there has to be a crisis. So what do we do about it?

Firstly, I want to make clear that cat overpopulation refers to domestic cats and the problem is not only an American problem. The same can probably be said about Europe. It is much less discussed in Europe and the figures are not as transparent. That does not mean that there is no problem.

Secondly, having said this is about domestic cats you could argue that there is a tiger overpopulation in America! There are too many captive tigers in the US and not enough wild tigers in world - wake up world, please!

There is only one way to tackle to cat overpopulation crisis properly and for the long term. People need to stop taking reactive measures - killing unwanted cats - which hides the problem or lessens the impact of cat overpopulation. We must take proactive measures.

Proactive measures can only mean better and more responsible cat caretaking that lessens relinquishment to shelters, plain abandonment to the wild and cat abuse such as declawing, negligence and abuse.

Proactive measures can only mean education. Education about proper and responsible cat caretaking will result first and foremost in proper and realistic expectations about what it is like to care for a domestic cat. I call it expectation management. This is the first step. Beyond that there is a need to educate people to respect animals.

When I was a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, the first thing I did when I saw a client was to manage their expectations about the possible outcome of the case and the time it would take. Well...that was after I discussed the cost!

I did this to stop the client being disappointed if and when the litigation didn't work out as they had planned. In that way it helped me too. It protected me from criticism.

If we transfer that analogy to the world of the domestic cat, we have the situation where someone, probably a public body, should be making it obligatory to attend a short course in realistic cat caretaking before the prospective cat owner takes possession of their new cat.

People acquire domestic cats from breeders (relatively rare as these are purebreds), friends and neighbours and rescue centers. I don't know the percentage breakdown. I suspect that the majority of cat adoptions happen on an ad hoc basis from a neighbor who has allowed their cats to breed.

People who adopt from breeders and rescue centers should be made to attend a government proscribed course in cat management and care under local government legislation. The course should be realistic. That is its purpose - to control expectations. Do people know that it can be expensive to care for a domestic cat? It might cost up to $10,000 over the lifetime of the cat including all expenses: vet, food and extras. That will put off a good percentage of potential cat adopters. Yes, it sounds outlandish but it is not. It is sensible. Lets start with cat rescue centers (shelters) and breeders.

You might say that it will put potential cat adopters off having learnt about the realism of cat caretaking. The consequences will be less cats adopted and more cats killed. Yes, that is true at the beginning of this long and difficult process of change in culture.

But, and this is the clincher, in the long term there will be less abandoned cats, less relinquished cats, less needlessly killed cats, less starving feral cats, less shot at feral cats (for fun), less declawed cats and more happy, contented cats in homes where they are really wanted.

Solving the cat overpopulation problem requires the will of the shelters and the legislators. But you know what? They are in a nice settled rut. The vets get their profit from treating shelter cats. They need shelters. Cats don't. Vets are a constant source of pressure that drives cat caretaking in the wrong direction because they put profit above care. That is to be expected, of course.

Solving the cat overpopulation crisis in the USA will not come overnight because it requires a change in culture and a nation's culture takes decades to be formulated. Something that takes decades to build often takes decades to change unless it happens by revolution. Let there be a revolution in the cat world!

Michael Avatar

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