Explosion of cat births in spring overwhelms Sutter shelter
They're born in Yuba-Sutter's river bottoms and alleys, backyards and abandoned buildings.
But even the lucky few kittens born this spring under care of animal-loving humans stand little chance of living a long, safe, healthy life indoors.
Cat numbers climb dramatically at this time of year, particularly in the Mid-Valley, where so few animals are spayed or neutered.
The result is often tragic.
During June 2009 — an unusually difficult month — the Sutter County Animal Shelter took in 345 cats — nearly five times as many cats as in December.
Only 17 cats were adopted that June.
"Things can get very difficult," said U.C. Davis veterinarian Kate Hurley, a specialist in shelter medicine. "When an adult cat comes in the (shelter) door, it's competing against all these kittens for the few homes there are."
Hurley is negotiating a contract with the Sutter Animal Services Authority to serve as a consultant for the county's planned new animal shelter.
A key priority for the project, she said, will be in addressing the area's over population of animals through education and more accessible low-cost spay and neuter programs.
At stake, Hurley said, is the ability of animal workers to provide safe and humane services for the animals.
"There's a big impact in having four times as many animals to care for, and huge public health challenges," Hurley said.
And cats are far more prolific than dogs.
The average female cat goes into heat every two weeks, each time for four to seven days. And the cycle begins at five months of age. An unspayed female cat can have two to three litters per year and 150 kittens in its lifetime.
Cats that are stray or feral, and competing for scarce resources, often come into an animal shelter with problems that can be passed on to humans, Hurley said. Those include ringworm and internal parasites, like round and hook worms.
And cats in a shelter, "are more susceptible to their own illnesses," Hurley said.
An animal rescue group called ResQPaws formed last summer as an emergency relief team for the woefully overcrowded Sutter County shelter.
The all-volunteer group created an underground railroad to remove the most adoptable animals slated to be euthanized and buy them time to find a home.
Many of the group's volunteers operate in a kind of foster care system. They take animals into their own homes on a temporary basis and help to find more long-term owners.
Recently, the group began to experience its first, "kitten season."
"In one week, we went from having no kittens, to having six litters," said Aubrey Goodall, ResQPaws volunteer coordinator, by way of Facebook. "One week."
Kristi Taylor-Rymer, one of the group's founders, said the glut of animals has brought additional health concerns.
"If strays come in, you have no way of knowing about vaccinations or their health conditions, which makes it difficult for our fosters to bring in more than one litter at a time," she said.
Hurley said the exponential growth of a shelter population means an exponential depletion of resources — including labor.
"If normally (animal shelter workers) have five minutes per animal, now they have only one minute per animal," she said. "At the time when you most need to be reaching out and trying to get your animals adopted, you have the least time to do that."
Currently, the only consistent source for low-cost spay and neuter services is the Yuba-Sutter SPCA in Yuba City, where the waiting list is often months long.
Pet supply stores and some veterinarians host occasional low-cost spay and neuter days.
It's a situation that needs to be remedied, Hurley said.
"We know the solution to this problem, and it's spaying and neutering cats," she said. "Keep the animals spayed and out of shelters."
CONTACT Nancy Pasternack at email@example.com or 749-4781. Find her on Facebook at /ADnpasternack or on Twitter at @ADnpasternack.