TIGHT BUDGETS LEAD SOME CITY SHELTERS TO STOP TREATING CATS LIKE DOGS
How do you help more cats with less money? Contrary to decades of conventional practice, some in the shelter community are now arguing that for municipal shelters, the answer is to leave free-roaming cats alone, and to ask communities' nonprofit shelters to do the same.
"We help when a cat is in trouble, or is causing trouble," says Tracy Mohr, a 30-year shelter veteran who recently turned the California college town of Chico into one where cats are no longer routinely accepted at the city's tax-funded shelter. "If that's not the case, we leave them alone and ask that others do, too."
Chico's city shelter no longer accepts "nuisance" cats trapped and brought in by citizens, nor cats presumed to be lost pets. The city shelter also no longer accepts cats given up by their owners for adoption. Those animals now go to the Butte Humane Society, a local nonprofit that had already been pulling cats from the city shelter for adoption. By sending people looking to rehome a pet directly to the nonprofit shelter, the community has "one-stop shopping" for adopting cats while sparing the animals the stress of being moved from one shelter to another.
The changes were put in place in February, and they've resulted in fewer cats killed and, more surprisingly, fewer unhappy citizens. Mohr says that's because the shelters were all on the same page when it came to handling cats, and because the community outreach ahead of the change was extensive.
"We have a very active animal welfare community here, with a lot of organizations and a lot of very active, concerned people," says Mohr. "The change made perfect sense."
What didn't make sense was continuing with traditional sheltering methods when budgets are being slashed, says shelter medicine pioneer Dr. Kate Hurley of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Hurley points out that landing in a shelter is a good thing if you're a dog, but that's rarely the case for cats.
"People know when a dog is missing, and they know it right away," she says. "The dog was here, and now he's not. That's not true with cats. It's not uncommon for an owned cat to be missing for a while, and an owner won't start looking because the cat always came back before."
"With all our efforts in shelters to reunite cats with their owners, more commonly what we're doing is killing people's pets," says Hurley, noting that 67 percent of lost cats are reunited with their owners by returning on their own, but only 2 percent of shelter cats are reclaimed by their owners. In other words: Cities can save money by not dealing with "lost" cats or feral cat colonies, which are both situations that typically will resolve or can be resolved without official intervention.
The change is in part a realization that free-roaming cats, whether pets or feral, have more in common with wild animals than with dogs. No one would ever suggest that there were enough money and man-hours to eradicate entire populations of wild species in urban areas. Instead, the strategy is to remove dangerous animals and help those wild animals in trouble. The same strategy works for cats, says Dr. Hurley, and Mohr agrees.
"Take people complaining that there's a cat in their yard, going to the bathroom in their garden," says Mohr. "If they trap that cat, really, is that going to solve the problem? No, because there are probably more cats in the neighborhood. Trapping will be an exercise in futility.
"What we're counseling people to do, the same way we counsel them with wildlife, is to use strategies that make a yard less attractive for a cat.
"The problem gets solved by leaving the animal alone in most cases, and we're using our community to solve it."
The bottom line, says Mohr, is a collaborative community effort aimed at problem-solving, using strategies that actually work with and for cats, while saving money for taxpayers.
No easy cure for bird's
Q: Is there anything I can do to keep my bird from pulling out his own feathers? Specifically, is this a dietary problem? -- via Facebook
A: Feather-picking is a symptom of something else that's wrong with your bird. Any one (or any combination) of the following can be at the root of the issue:
-- Health problems. Medical conditions behind feather-picking include allergies, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, abnormal growths (cysts) in the feather follicle, internal health problems, vitamin deficiencies and hormone-associated problems. And that's the short list. Low humidity can also be a factor.
-- Boredom, pent-up energy and psychological problems. Birds are active and intelligent, and they don't handle the strain of being forced to sit around in a cage all day very well. Without things to play with and stuff to destroy, and without being able to get out of the cage and exercise, birds may direct all their energy toward self-mutilation. Obsessive-compulsive disorders can also trigger feather-picking, as can attention seeking.
Find a veterinarian with experience in caring for birds as soon as the problem appears. Medical problems need to be addressed before looking at any behavioral strategies.
After any medical issues are resolved, start a diary to record changes to your bird's world and any effects they may have on his behavior. For example, a daily misting with a spray bottle and the addition of a room humidifier may be help, as might different toys, a smaller or larger cage, a new cage location, keeping a radio playing during the day, covering the cage to ensure your bird gets 12 solid hours of sleep, and more interaction and play with you.
Some birds will never stop plucking. The best you can do is to be patient, work with an avian veterinarian toward fixing the problems and be prepared to love your bird no matter what he looks like. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Famous feline paradise
for sale in San Diego
-- The world-famous San Diego house where cats wandered freely on overhead walkways is for sale. Updated and remodeled, but with its cat-friendly features left intact, The Cats' House is listed at nearly $600,000. Owned by artists Bob Walker and Frances Mooney, the house has been the subject of two best-selling books and countless media appearances. Once a wild display of color inside and out, the home's interior walls now sport an off-white hue, and the old, deep-purple exterior is now a more sedate and traditional green. The couple is moving to the Washington, D.C., area with plans for a second Cats' House.
-- Americans spend about $500 on average, or 1 percent of their annual budgets, on their pets. Statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that people ages 55 to 64 and couples without children are most likely to spend money on pets and their care, dedicating hundreds of dollars more per year than people in their 20s and 30s. While the spending accounts for $61.4 billion last year, it wasn't all for health care: One-fourth of all pet owners admitted skipping veterinary visits for wellness care or other pet needs.
-- Want to catch a glimpse of one of the rarest of cats? Check out the big cat view from the Center for International Forestry Research's 30 hidden cameras in the rainforests of Java (http://tinyurl.com/JavaLeopard). Images of three Javan leopards looking healthy and acting normally have given hope to researchers studying these beautiful and endangered animals. The Javan leopard population is believed to comprise fewer than 250 adults. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.