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Sutter County Animal Shelter's goal: Keep cats alive
Most of the cats that go into animal shelters don't come out alive, but Sutter County's top animal control officer wants to fight that trend.
Animal shelters are bad places for cats in general. A sliver of them are reunited with their owners and a fraction of them get adopted. The rest — more than two-thirds — get euthanized.
Sutter County's shelter is no different. In fact, things have gotten worse for cats there in the last five years. The shelter handles 22 percent more cats in 2011 than it did in 2006, according to data from a November 2011 report from veterinarian Richard Bachman. The number of cats adopted or returned to their owners, however, went down by 41 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
The number of cats euthanized skyrocketed by 76 percent, from 987 to 1,737, during that same time, according to Bachman's numbers.
"We don't want to have to put the kitties to sleep," said Cheryl Bohannan, Sutter County's supervising animal control officer.
The wave of cats crashing into the shelter came from the housing boom and then its collapse. At first, more houses and homeowners meant more cats. When the boom went bust, it forced homeowners-turned-renters to expel their cats when faced with landlord's who didn't want cats.
"There's too many nice cats," Bohannan said.
Bohannan said she wants to turn things around, something the shelter already started doing with dogs in the last nine months with the help of ResQpaws. The new pet adoption organization, which started in July, plasters animals' pictures and info online. Volunteers with the organization also shuttle them from the shelter to VIP Pets on Saturdays so potential owners can touch and play with them.
As a result, ResQpaws volunteers and shelter workers are reconnecting and adopting more dogs while killing fewer at the shelter.
Now the allies are turning their attention to cats and hoping for the same result. ResQpaws workers started hauling a half-dozen cats out to their weekly adoption fairs about three months ago. They've found homes for 10 to 15 since they started.
"The numbers are growing at each event because the word's getting out," said Kristi Rymer, founder and chairperson of ResQpaws.
Making it cheaper to adopt a cat is also a key part of their strategy. A would-be owner had to shell out about $73 to adopt a cat a year ago. Convincing people to pay that kind of money is a tough sell when thousands of free feral cats are roaming around, even if they are unvaccinated and not fixed.
"Cats are a dime a dozen on the street," Rymer said.
Now the shelter offers Sutter County residents a $40 voucher they can cash in if they prove they've fixed the cat they adopted.
ResQpaws wants to lower the cost even more, so a resident can eventually adopt a fixed, vaccinated cat for $10.
"It'll have a huge, huge effect," Rymer said. "I see it growing tremendously."
But the onus falls not just on animal control officials and volunteers, Bohannan said. Owners also have a responsibility to tamp down on the exploding cat population. They can do that by spaying or neutering their cats, which reproduce exponentially when they're not.
If owners don't see their cats for a couple days, don't assume they'll come back, she advised. Dog owners are more successful at finding their pets because when Fido gets loose, they check the shelter and its website quickly.
Cat owners dally or they're willing to let the cat die and pick up a new one, Bohannan said.
Bohannan and Rymer hope their multi-pronged approach allows them to reshuffle a deck stacked against cats. With a new set of cards, they want to deal as many stray cats as they can into "forever" homes.
"The adoptions are going to go through the roof," Rymer said. "I see it being a complete turnaround."