About 2.5 million cats are euthanized at cat shelters in the USA yearly1. Of these 35% are relinquished cats. This is the percentage of cats at cat shelters that are from owners relinquishing their cats2. It follows that 875,000 cat companions (pets) are relinquished and killed at cat shelters each year in the USA. I say "killed" because I speculate that these are most often healthy, well adjusted cats and therefore the word, "euthanasia" does not apply. They are just unwanted cats, plain and simple.
In killing them the shelters take away the problem of relinquishment. It is dealt with. It is as if a cat is piece of rubbish to be discarded. Out if sight and out of mind is the motto. In destroying these unwanted cats we make it easier for people to relinquish their cat. We also send out the wrong signal to cat caretakers that a cat's life is not worth that much. This encourages further relinquishment. The mass slaughter - and it has to be called that - also numbs the senses. It has become an accepted routine. I find this astonishing and very sad. This problem should be dealt with before all other issues relating to the domestic cat.
I will further speculate that in the vast majority of cases the reason for relinquishing the cat is unjustified or the arguments for it are weak. People can always find a reason for doing something but is the reason soundly argued? In killing relinquished cats shelters are indirectly endorsing and supporting the process of relinquishment. This is not done deliberately but it is happening. Also cat shelters are undermining their objective as "shelters" and almost exclusively reacting to the problem.
Shelters do a lot of good, sometimes great work, of course they do, but I think it is time to change the way they work. Funding should be redirected from clearing up the mess to preventing the mess occurring. I'll let people with imagination and drive work out how to take proactive steps to curb the killing.
(1) Estimated from Social Compassion in Legislation, 2009 figures
(2) National Council on Pet Population, 2009
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