Have a Home for a Few Million Cats?

June is Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, and I implore anyone who has the time, resources, energy, and love to devote to a cat to consider opening your heart and home to a feline (or two!) in need. Shelters are overflowing with cats of every stripe, from frisky kittens to loyal "lap cats."

Unfortunately, finding a great home for even one cat is no easy task. Homes where cats will be played with daily, even when their guardians are tired or busy, where they will never have to tiptoe through filthy litterboxes, where they will be given scratching posts and perches instead of having their claws and toes amputated, and where they are treated as members of the family -- these are rare indeed.

After the Gulf oil disaster, PETA rescued nearly 30 "special-needs" cats from New-Orleans-area shelters. These cats had lived through the trauma of being abandoned by the people they loved, and many of them had spent years in cages surrounded by other sad, sick, and stressed felines and coping with physical problems such as, in one case, a misshapen face and, in another, a missing leg. It took a long time to place these cats, because our standards are high (as everyone's should be), and we won't let any animal go to a less-than-stellar situation.

Nearly two years later, three of these cats -- Bubbles, Brandi, and Marshall -- remain at PETA's office. They are absolutely delightful. Bubbles will leap into the air like a shortstop to intercept tossed balls of paper, Brandi proudly carries around a rubber lizard that she likes to brag about having "killed," and all three love to hang out in their multistory cat tree and attack the tail of whichever unsuspecting victim happens to be above them. We all want to see them adopted, but we refuse to put them in danger by giving them away for free or rushing them out the door and into a questionable home.

Animal shelters across the country face the same conundrum -- except that instead of having to find homes for three cats, they are charged with finding homes for dozens upon dozens of cats every week. As the PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights points out, this is because breeders insist on cranking out more litters, pet-shop owners know that they can make a buck by selling kittens, and too many people don't consider the consequences of not having their cats (or the ones they've been feeding by the back door) spayed or neutered.

On any given day, the number of stray and surrendered cats who pass through animal shelters' doors far exceeds that of the people who are qualified and willing to give them homes. This leaves shelters in the heartbreaking position of having to euthanize many cats in order to accommodate the newcomers.

Some shelters try to make their euthanasia statistics look better by resorting to reckless practices such as giving cats away for free, or dangerous gimmicks such as promoting black-cat adoptions around Halloween. These tactics may move cats out the door, but they put them in danger of fates far worse than a painless death. Perhaps these shelters have never heard of Barry Herbeck, who tortured, sexually abused, and killed nearly two dozen animals whom he obtained through "free to a good home" ads, or of the gut-wrenching ways in which people torture and kill black cats around Halloween, either for "fun" or as part of a cruel ritual.

Re-abandoning feral cats on the streets is another way in which some shelters try to sidestep euthanasia, but ferals do not fare well on their own. Left to try to "fend for themselves," cats' lives are short and harsh. Many die after suffering excruciating urinary tract or other infections; crossing paths with cars, dogs, or unkind people; freezing to death in winter; or other horrific fates. Leaving cats at the mercy of the streets is not a solution to the animal homelessness crisis.

Adopting is important, but in the end it's like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a teaspoon. We can bail for all we're worth, but the ship is going to go down anyway unless we plug the hole in the bottom. Preventing more cats and dogs from ending up homeless in the first place, by passing mandatory spay/neuter legislation and restricting breeding, is the solution.