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As we break from the icy clutch of winter and look forward to a brighter spring and warmer summer, it is important to remember that the seasons we look forward to are often the hardest for homeless cats and the shelters that work to save them. “Kitten Season” is considered by animal rescue workers to begin in the spring, reaching a peak in early summer, and end in the fall. During this time, cats as young as five months give birth, and shelters and rescues become inundated with litters of homeless kittens. Broadway Barks looked to the experts to find out why Kitten Season occurs and what can be done to stop the cycle of homelessness and suffering for these beautiful, innocent animals.

Why Does Kitten Season Happen?

Kitten Season happens when unaltered cats that are either homeless, or allowed to roam outdoors, mate. This mating results in an overwhelming number of kittens that are themselves able to mate just five months later. Unaltered cats are driven by hormones to seek a mate. Mating just once is all it takes to start a domino effect that results in thousands of homeless cats. According to North Shore Animal League’s SpayUSA, one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce 2,072,514 kittens in just eight years!

Most of these kittens are left on the street to fend for themselves and eventually die from disease, predators, or being run over by cars. It’s a terrible and frightening life. Many cats and kittens end up in municipal animal shelters where space is extremely limited and time for these helpless animals is often short. The cute kittens are the first to be adopted, while the mama cats, many under a year old themselves, are overlooked. As each day in the shelter passes, the odds of being adopted decrease. In many government-run shelters, cats and kittens are simply euthanized when space and time run out.

Animal rescue groups often attempt to rescue as many of these cats and kittens as possible, but resources that are hard to come by year-round are even more scarce during Kitten Season. A litter of kittens and the mama cat require food, kennel space, and veterinary care that can cost close to $1,000, which can be difficult for a rescue group running on adoption fees and donations to afford. The large number of homeless kittens also increases the risk of illness as diseases can spread quickly in a litter and then through a shelter that is struggling to house as many animals as possible.

Photo Credit: Brian A. Jackson

How Can We Stop This Cycle?

There are many ways to stop the cycle of suffering and homelessness created during Kitten Season. Here are the top four ways to help:

  1. The most effective way to stop this cycle of feline homelessness is to spay and neuter your own cat. Even if you have an indoor cat, spaying and neutering ensures that should your cat accidentally get out, he or she won’t contribute to the population of homeless cats and kittens. Remember, a cat as young as five months old can reproduce. So spaying or neutering your cat or kitten is really a must! Read more at Spay and Neuter Today – Protect Animals Tomorrow.
  1. Kitten Season is a real strain on animal shelters and rescues. They need all the help they can get, so volunteering is another way you can help. You can donate money or time, and shelters usually need both. Contact your local shelter to find out what is needed most, and then get involved. You’ll find it rewarding, and you will be helping to enrich and protect the lives of the cats and kittens that so desperately need assistance. Many shelters and rescues also need foster homes where cats and kittens can rest and get healthy while they wait for a permanent home. To learn more about animal foster care read Animal Fosters Needed—No Superhero Cape Required.
  1. Another way to help reduce the homeless cat and kitten population is to support Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs in your area to help manage the feral cat population. TNR programs locate feral and homeless cats living outside. They humanely trap the cats; provide them with basic veterinary care, which includes spaying or neutering; then they release the cats back into their neighborhood. This ensures that the cats do not continue the reproduction cycle and they receive any needed medical attention, thus helping to curb the spread of diseases. More about this topic can be found at Working Cats: TNR Programs Are Helping Stray and Feral Cats Get to Work.
  1. Don’t Shop. Adopt! If you are thinking of getting a cat or kitten yourself, adopt one during Kitten Season. Not only will you be saving the life of the kitten or cat you take home, you will also be making more room and freeing up resources for the kittens and cats that remain in the shelter—you’ll be extending their lives and giving them a better chance at getting proper medical care and finding permanent homes. And when you adopt your new family member, tell the world! Encourage your friends and family who coo at the Facebook or Instagram photos of your furry bundle of joy to go out and do the same thing themselves!

By Charlene Sloan

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