The stats for cats in pounds and shelters are especially depressing. Kill rates are as high as 80%, simply because homes aren't found for them.
On average, only 3% of rescued cats are reunited with their owners. But here’s the thing - most shelter cats have never had owners, so being impounded is incredibly stressful. And of the remaining 17% that make it out alive, many get sick in shelters and pounds.
Putting an end to the suffering
‘Euthanasia’ is normal practice in Australia when it comes to managing cats, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. For starters, the reality doesn’t even fit the definition of euthanasia:
Noun: The painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. More loosely termed mercy killing: to take a deliberate action with the express intention of ending a life to relieve intractable (persistent, unstoppable) suffering.
The simple fact is, we cannot deliver ‘euthanasia’ to healthy feral animals. For a fearful or feral cat, the experience of capture, transportation, handling and injection that precedes death causes great suffering. In no way does it prevent suffering.
It’s a horrid situation for all shelter workers and pet lovers. It’s costing the community. And it’s really bad for cats.
Why ‘catch and kill’ doesn’t add up
Only a tiny fraction of the cat population is being impacted by the current ‘catch and kill’ shelter process. Between 1% and 3% of Australia’s entire cat population is euthanised every year. Removing 3% simply isn’t enough to control the population. Not even 10% is sufficient to reduce the risk to wildlife. Cats keep breeding at a faster rate than the authorities are catching and killing. It’s simply bad management.
So, what strategies and services could we be spending that money on to manage cats more successfully, cost effectively and humanely? What system will improve the outcomes for our pets, our community, our wildlife and the welfare of cats everywhere? The solution is a lot simpler than you might think.
One size doesn’t fit all cats
The first step in creating an effective cat management strategy is to recognise that not all cats are the same. With a cat, there’s no easy way of telling whether she’s a friendly pet cat that’s lost and bewildered, or a never-been-owned-before feral.
We wouldn’t trap a healthy wild animal like a possum, take it to a shelter, try and calm it down and adopt it into a home. So wouldn’t it make more sense to apply the strategies and tools we use on wild animals to manage cats who are, essentially, wild?
What can we do differently when we find a cat?
When you come across a friendly cat, think twice about picking it up and taking it to a shelter. More often than not, you will be hindering their progress in finding their way home. Leave pet cats where they are or, if laws permit, take them to a local vet to be scanned for a microchip. We don’t want the cat ending up in a shelter if it is lost, as it is statistically much, much more likely to return home on its own than survive being impounded.
What can we do differently for free-roaming and semi-owned cats?
Semi-owned or ‘community’ cats with access to food and water have a 90% chance of survival. If they are healthy cats in good condition, don’t attempt to trap them and take them to a shelter. There are better ways of managing and reducing cat numbers.
What can we do differently, full-stop?
Widespread desexing programs for unowned cats (Trap, Neuter, Return, or TNR) is a humane program that’s proven to be highly successful in stabilising cat populations, keeping untame and unowned cats out of shelters and reducing kill rates. What’s more, these programs also reduce the nuisance behaviours of breeding cats and reduce the risk to wildlife too.
95% of owned cats are desexed in some communities, a far higher rate than dogs. And community cats – cats that live in the community with or without a carer – are currently desexed at a rate of less than 2%.
Imagine the positive impact if the money and resources that are currently used to capture and kill cats was instead invested in humane desexing programs that have been proven to reduce cat numbers.
We owe it to our second best friend to do better when it comes to managing cats. We owe it to them to create a future where the killing of cats in shelters is no longer accepted as the norm. If you’d like to find out more about desexing programs and their global success, read our article ‘Humane Cat Management’.