The Kent County SPCA, for example, doesn’t even have room for one more cat. And it’s like that at animal shelters all over Delaware.
“The cat overpopulation issue is extremely significant,” says Mary Ann D’Amato, the community outreach manager in Kent County.
She says three or four years of a recession have taken their toll – not just on people – but their pets as well.
“The economy has had a tremendous impact,” she says. “People having to downscale and moving into apartments where they are not able to take their pets. That’s one issue.”
The result is cats being left out on their own, to fend for themselves.
And to multiply.
One stray cat can give birth to as many as a dozen kittens in a year. Multiply that by just 10 cats in a community and a nuisance quickly becomes a crisis.
“Many people come into the shelter or call on the phone that they want to do something good,” D’Amato says. “They want to help, they don’t want to see the animals put to sleep, they don’t know what to do.”
In an attempt to control overpopulation, shelters across the state are promoting aggressive spay and neuter programs, and encouraging more people to become foster parents for pets.
Gov. Jack Markell even recorded a public service announcement recently to garner more interest in the foster program.
Karen Sawicki has been a foster parent for countless animals over the span of 30 years, getting them ready for adoption.
“We have to help these pets, they can’t help themselves,” she says. “We have to help them get to the next level which is get medically treated, get to their forever home.”
Shelters are also partnering with businesses like PetSmart and organizations like Perfect Haven to increase opportunities for adoption.
But like a lot of shelters around the state, it seems private homes are filling up with cats as well.
Noelle Mouhtarim, a teenager playing with some lively kittens at the PetSmart in Dover, already owns several cats. She says her mom has imposed a moratorium on acquiring any more.
“I would love to take home more if it was my choice,” she says.
It is clear, officials lament, that the cat overpopulation is not a problem adoption alone can fix.
“We can’t adopt our way out of this problem,” D’Amato says. “It’s impossible to adopt our way at this point in time out of the numbers of cats that are in our communities. And this is a community problem and it’s going to take a whole community to solve this. Not just animal shelters. Animal shelters can only do so much.”
It’s a serious problem that’s forcing officials and animal lovers to think outside the shelter.
One idea that’s becoming more popular is something called a community cat program, where residents manage colonies of strays on their streets, neighborhoods or apartment complexes. They provide food, shelter, and affection. But more importantly, they get the cats spayed and neutered.
Residents in one New Castle County community decided it was the best way to tackle their own exploding cat population.
“Everybody voted, the Board of Directors and the community,” says resident Nancy Bosman as two strays circle her legs. “And we voted to have this program, to save these cats.”
Since Bosman’s neighborhood implemented the program, the feline population has become very much under control.
“That was one of the problems, we had kittens everywhere,” Bosman says. “And as you can see you don’t see kittens now. We have adults, and we have very few now that are still left to spay and neuter.”
The goal is simple: to get the cats ready for adoption.
“This is the goal right here, right here,” Bosman says, holding her large, black cat “Middie” that she took off the streets and brought into her home. “To be as happy as he is and spoiled rotten. And I love him; I wouldn’t take anything in the world for him.”
People interested in learning more about community cat programs, can contact the Kent County SPCA.