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Shelters across Canada have been facing a serious cat overpopulation problem for the last few decades. Far more cats are admitted into shelters than dogs. Some are found roaming as strays, and some are pets surrendered by their owners who can no longer care for them. Cats usually take much longer to adopt out than dogs, and some are never adopted. Many healthy, adoptable cats are euthanized in shelters if they aren’t adopted within a specific time or when shelters run out of space in which to keep them. Based on our national surveys of shelters, the CFHS estimates that about half of all cats admitted to shelters in Canada end up being euthanized. While some of these cats have to be put down due to untreatable illnesses, a significant proportion of them would have been spared that fate if they had been adopted.
Many people are not interested in adopting an older cat from a shelter, further contributing to the challenge of finding homes for shelter cats. Even though adult cats have a lot to offer prospective owners, many are passed over in favour of kittens.
The homeless cat problem in Canada is mainly due to irresponsible pet owners letting their cats roam free without identification and/or without being spayed or neutered. It is surprising to learn just how many cats in Canada are not properly identified either through tags or microchipping. In most municipalities, cats don’t need to be licensed either. The result? If an owner doesn’t proactively contact shelters and pounds in their area to look for their lost cat, reuniting the cat with its owner is next to impossible. Humane societies commonly report that only a tenth of the lost cats admitted to their shelters are ever reclaimed by owners.
Un-spayed and un-neutered cats that roam contribute to the overpopulation problem by giving birth to unwanted litters of kittens year after year. Owners of male cats allowed to roam outside may never know that their cat has fathered a litter — or two, or twenty! Many people think that spaying and neutering is unnecessary or too costly, but the unwanted litters cost money by taking up space in shelters; essentially, the cost is passed on to the wider community to bear.
Spaying/neutering is the responsibility of all pet owners, but for some owners, the cost of spaying or neutering can be a deterrent to getting it done. Several municipalities, humane societies and SPCAs are now offering low-cost spay/neuter programs or clinics to address this problem.