The vast number of cats and dogs that are being relinquished to our shelters to await adoption or euthanasia is truly alarming. And, the number of stray cats still at large is also very upsetting. As an animal rescuer, I know the disturbing reality of pet overpopulation firsthand. To come across a half-dead kitten lying face-down on the cold asphalt, or a pitifully skinny tomcat picking at garbage is truly heartbreaking. These lucky ones were taken to my veterinarian and adopted to loving homes. But, unfortunately, there are many, many stories like this that do not have such happy endings.
There are solutions to this troublesome problem:
1. Spay/neuter your pet. Many people still have misconceptions about altering their pet. In truth, the animals are healthier, are better behaved and are less likely to roam or run away when they are altered. Kittens and puppies that are not altered yet, need to be watched so they do not run away to become reproducing strays. And, please, keep all dogs on leashes or leads.
2. Adopt a pet from your local animal shelter or organization. Consider adopting an older pet. Because most people want smaller animals, less than one year of age, thee is a surplus of adult casts and of large, mixed-breed dogs. If you have negative perception of shelter animals and/or negative emotions relating to visiting animal shelters, there are many other ways to adopt -- through ads in the newspaper, your local veterinarian or through Petco and Petsmart. Close to a half million animals have been adopted, thanks to these socially-progressive pet stores. This proves that people will respond when animals are presented positively.
3. Before giving your pet to a shelter, try to keep it or adopt it out yourself. Most behavioral problems are due to poor socialization and training. There are many dog training programs available at the shelters and they can also help you solve cat behavioral problems. There are books and videos on training. Please invest some time and money before giving up a pet to a shelter. A word of warning to those who place ads in newspapers -- please carefully screen potential adopters, ask for addresses and phone numbers and a follow-up visit. Better yet, ask to deliver the pet to their home.
4. Help the animal rescue effort by donating your time or money. The Bergen County Animal Shelter, 201-646-3200, the Hudson County Animal League, 201-200-1008, the Jersey City SPCA, 201-435-3557, and other animal rescue organizations have a surplus of animals, stressing their funds and the lives of the wonderful people who run and volunteer for these organizations. They need help with everything -- from office work to hands-on care. Foster homes are needed too.
5. Consider adopting an "outdoor" cat -- either the one in your own backyard or from an animal rescue organization. Don't ignore that stray cat. By feeding it, you will gain its confidence and loyalty, making it easier to trap and have altered. These feral, semi-feral and even friendly stray cats need safe backyards and responsible owners to provide them with food and shelter. An altered, vaccinated cat can live a very happy, healthy life outdoors, giving you much love and entertainment for little effort on your part. Call any animal shelter or rescue organization and they will help you trap, spay/neuter and show you how to care for an outdoor cat.
6. Write to your national and state elected officials. Ask them to support legislation that protects animal rights and that provides more funding for animal shelters and rescue organizations. Knowing you have given a home and a life to an animal who probably would have been euthanized is truly rewarding. Please consider adopting a shelter or stray animal. You'll both feel great about it!