Why are so many cats killed in the pounds?

Note: This post is part of a series this week on ThatMutt.com called “Saving the cats.”

No adoptable, impounded cats have been killed in the Fargo-Moorhead area in 2012 (as of March 30), according to Carol Stefonek, one of the directors of CATS Cradle Shelter in Fargo.

Although Stefonek hopes this trend will continue, she said CATS Cradle is full and more and more cats are still entering the pounds.

The Fargo-Moorhead area has three pounds, all controlled by local government. The Moorhead pound serves the City of Moorhead as well as Clay County (Minnesota). The Fargo pound serves the City of Fargo as well as Cass County (North Dakota), and the West Fargo pound serves the City of West Fargo.

Cats are not up for adoption directly from the pounds. Rescue groups such as the Farg0-Moorhead Humane Society, Adopt-A-Pet of Fargo-Moorhead and CATS Cradle pull cats from the pounds and offer them for adoption. Natural Pet Center also pulls cats from the Moorhead pound.

Nine hundred and twelve cats were impounded in the area last year. Of those, 48 percent were killed. Local pound stats are available to the public.

If we want to stop killing adoptable cats (and feral cats) in the pounds, the first question to ask is why are so many cats entering the pounds in the first place?

Why do so many cats end up in the pounds?

The problems listed below are not unique to the Fargo area. They exist in nearly every community.

1. Many cats are abandoned by their owners.

One of the main reasons so many cats enter local pounds is because people abandon kittens and cats, according to Carol Sawicki, clinic director of Minn-Kota PAAWS, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic focusing on farm cats, feral cats and pets from limited income households.

People dump kittens on farms or hobby farms in the area, Sawicki said. Others dump them in town.

Sometimes the cats are a financial burden and the person doesn’t know what else to do, she said. Some people are unaware that a low-cost spay/neuter option exists in the area. Others are just lazy or don’t care enough to find the cat a new home and should never have gotten a cat in the first place.

“People don’t want to work,” Sawicki said. “It’s easier to dump the cat.”

Danis Owens of Adopt-A-Pet said some people will simply leave their cats behind when they move out of an apartment or a house. Cats are just left in buildings or on the property.

Another issue is people don’t understand certain cat behavioral problems, Sawicki said. For example, if a male cat is spraying in the house, someone might abandon the cat when a simple solution would be to get him neutered.

Other cat behavioral problems include scratching the furniture or not using the litter box, said Michelle Smith, owner of Natural Pet Center. In addition to adopting out cats, Natural Pet Center is a pet retail store and offers pet grooming.

Smith said if a cat has stopped using its litter box, there is always a reason.

“They just don’t wake up and decide that they want to use the carpet or spare bedroom,” Smith said.

She tries to help her customers go through a list of possibilities that could be causing the issue.

Later this week, That Mutt will have a post on common cat behavior problems and what owners can do.

2. Many impounded cats are never re-claimed by their owners.

Black and white cat up for adoption in FargoSince so many cats are abandoned but were owned by someone at some point, the majority of the cats that enter local pounds are adoptable and friendly, according to Sawicki. But there are no owners to claim them.

Cassie Buck is a licensed veterinary technician at West Fargo Animal Hospital where the West Fargo pound is located. She works directly with the impounded cats there and said the majority of the cats are not claimed.

Most of the cats are really nice and friendly and were obviously owned by someone at some point, Buck said. Many are found in abandoned apartments or homes or come in as strays.

“Who knows why they’re out there,” she said.

When fewer cats are claimed by their owners, more are left to be rescued by local rescues and shelters, said Heather Clyde, shelter manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society.

“In the F-M area, the re-claim rate for impounded dogs is around 60 to 65 percent, whereas cats are barely 15 percent on a good year,” she said. “You can see the huge discrepancy in the numbers.”

Another factor could be the impound fees.

Quite a few people are unwilling to pay the impound fees to get their cats back, according to Owens. And that’s if they even bother to call at all.

Adopt-A-Pet will occasionally get calls from people searching for their lost cats, and Owens reminds them to repeatedly check with the pounds.

“I recommend calling at least two to three times a week for up to six months,” she said. “Cats are very elusive and may not end up in the pound immediately. Some can be missing for months before ending up there.”

Impounded cats are held for three to five business days at the local pounds so owners have a chance to re-claim them.

The fee to re-claim a cat from the Moorhead pound includes a $30 first-time impound fee, a $50 fee if the cat is not licensed, a $16.03 boarding fee per day and a $2 or $5 fee to get the cat licensed. The fee to re-claim a cat from the Fargo pound includes a $35 impound fee, a $25 penalty fee if the cat is not licensed and a daily boarding fee. The fee to re-claim a cat from the West Fargo pound ranges from $26.50 to $72.60 depending on how many days the cat has been impounded.

3. People allow their cats to roam outside.

Cat owners will often fail to re-claim their cats because they allow their cats to roam outdoors, Clyde said.

“In the animal world, it’s quite obvious that cats are not as ‘valued,’ like dogs,” she said.

The City of Fargo has an ordinance against roaming cats. All pets must be kept on a leash when off their owners’ property, according to the ordinance.

“Cat owners need to be aware that it isn’t just dogs that need to be leashed and supervised outside,” Smith said. “This is not only for the saftey of other people and animals but also for their cat.”

She said there are many reasons a cat will end up in the pound, but the reason she hears most often is “the cat just didn’t come back.”

Cats that are allowed to roam are very likely to be picked up by animal control or by another individual and taken to the pound, Smith said.

“So if the cat’s owner doesn’t start to worry for a week or so, it is likely that the cat has already entered the pound system,” she said.

Smith recommends cat owners use a harness and leash so everyone enjoys time outside in a safe manner.

4. More support is needed for trap/neuter/release programs for feral cats.

Although the majority of the cats that enter the Fargo-area pounds are friendly, many are feral, according to Stefonek. She does not know how many feral cats the community has, but said more than 51 were live trapped in a single Fargo neighborhood called Buena Vista.

A feral cat is a cat that has either never had contact with humans or its contact with people has diminished over time, according to Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. A feral cat is not socialized to people and survives on its own outdoors.

The Fargo City Commission set aside a portion of city funding for the purpose of the trap/neuter/release (TNR) of feral cats, Stefonek said. It works directly with Minn-Kota PAAWS and pays the organization $20 for every feral cat it spays/neuters if that cat was trapped in Fargo.

Stefonek said such a program does not exist in Moorhead where she lives.

Feral cats that enter the Moorhead pound are generally killed, according to a staff member at the Fargo-Moorhead Animal Hospital where the Moorhead pound is located.

Likewise, all feral cats that enter the West Fargo pound are killed after the standard holding period, according to Buck.

An established TNR program is important if a community wants to control the feral cat population, Stefonek said. It is not possible to control a feral cat population by trapping and “euthanizing” them because the remaining cats will continue to reproduce and replenish the population.

Owens agrees there needs to be more support for local TNR programs in order to decrease the number of stray and feral cats.

Later this week, That Mutt will have a post specifically on the feral cat issue.

5. Cats reproduce like crazy compared to dogs.

Tan tabby orange cat adoption Fargo MoorheadAll of the above reasons are directly related to spaying and neutering.

Not only are roaming and abandoned cats a problem, but when they are not spayed or neutered this leads to more and more cats and kittens that end up in the pound, Owens said.

The humane society alone rescued roughly 200 kittens under six months old in 2011, according to Clyde. During that same time, the organization rescued less than 30 puppies under six months old.

Female cats go into heat nonstop until they are bred, Clyde said. A female cat can have up to four litters in a year.

“The problem with kittens is not only the number of them, but once there are kittens, adult cats are often overlooked for ‘cute, cuddly kittens,'” Clyde said.

What are some other reasons so many cats enter the pounds?

The reasons why so many cats are entering the pounds are not limited to the above reasons.

Shelters and rescues can always do more to promote adoptions, for example.

Also, cat owners should make sure to get their cats microchipped, even if they are “indoor” cats. Cats should also wear collars with ID tags. I have to admit my own cats are not microchipped, and they typically do not wear their collars.

Please share your thoughts, questions, concerns and ideas in the comments below.

The pictured black and white cat (Tessa), and the tan cat (Snooki) are up for adoption with the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society. I can’t believe someone named a cat Snooki! Please consider adopting her so you can change her name! 🙂

Check back soon for more info about common cat behavior problems, feral cats and more!

13 thoughts on “Why are so many cats killed in the pounds?”

  1. As usual great post. Being an animal lover, I rescued two kittens about a year ago in winter during a snow storm. I was told that they were feral kittens and would not make it as too skinny and young about 2-3 weeks old. I ended up taking care of them for 2 months before finding them a permanent home. (I wanted to keep them but I didn’t have the adequate space for them to roam about) One thing I did while in my care, was to get them spay and neuter at low cost through my local spay and neuter program for feral cats. I didn’t get their ears’ tips cut as I knew I wouldn’t release them. I encourage people to trap feral cats and get them spay or neuter via their local spay and neuter program as it will decrease the odd of finding more cats roaming about and in need of shelter during cold winter. Same applies with dogs and domesticated cats. I wish people would search online about spaying and neutering their pets at low cost.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Thanks for saving those kittens. Many people seem to be unaware of the low-cost spay/neuter options.

  2. Just out of curiosity, what is their definition of “adoptable”?

    My local HS euthanizes cats if they pee outside of their litter box.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That is a very good question. From talking with different pound workers, it sounds like they will euthanize a cat if it is very sick or injured. And feral cats are very likely to be killed. I have not asked them to define “adoptable,” but I think that would be a good question. To me, it seems like they do a good job determining which cats are adoptable, and the rescues are also encouraged to evaluate the cats. It doesn’t seem like the pounds are trying to make the numbers sound better than they are. But I know what you mean. Good question.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        When shelters “euthanize” cats with litter box troubles it’s usually because they choose to believe no one will adopt the cat. It’s easier for the shelter to put the cat down. Unfortunately a lot of shelters look for just about any reason to consider a pet “unadoptable” in order to make their numbers look good. Not all shelters, of course, but more than people realize. Some will consider black cats and dogs “unadoptable,” for example. That’s one reason why I don’t like all the hype about “black dog syndrome.” It just gives shelters an excuse.

  3. What would happen if they didn’t have the impound fees they currently have? I am not blind to the understanding that pounds need monetary compensation in some way (whether via owners, adopters, or tax payers)… I just wonder if the fees were less would people call quicker? … would that result in less money out of pocket because animals are not there as long and so not costing the pound as much… getting a little or having a shorter stay would certainly “pay” more than getting nothing 85+% of the time.

    Our pup is micro-chipped and I’ll never have a cat or dog that isn’t. It was the best $20 we’ve spent on him as it offers SO much security! I’ve had many friends that had cats or dogs and had never heard of such a thing. This surprised me and made me think… If Panzer was picked up and had lost his collar, would the person that found him know to take him to a vet and have his tag scanned?! I just don’t know, granted the likelihood of him getting out is slim-to-none but it’s always a possibility and that’s why we spent the $20 on the chip.

    I wonder what can be done to encourage micro-chipping… I wonder if it would help getting a pet reclaimed.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I really need to have my pets chipped, mainly my cat Scout who will bolt when he gets out. Ace and my other cat Beamer don’t really go anywhere, but like you said, anything can happen.

      I think another problem is pounds don’t always scan for chips. And some have equipment that apparently only works with certain microchip companies. I guess I don’t know all the details. But all in all, I think people need to know that this option exists. Better to be on the safe side. And of course, people still need to call the pounds and keep calling. Don’t assume you will be contacted.

      1. I got a QR dog tag through DogsID a few months ago. I LOVE it. First, looks cool. Second, it slides onto the collar I made for him… the ones that hang down he freaks out until he grabs it, gets his jaw stuck, and things go downhill from there. Third, it allows me to update his info through PetHub including a cute picture of Panzer and myself. 😀 AND it alerts me when it’s scanned and shows the location of the person who scanned it… I tested this. It’s true.
        In addition to the QR code, it has his name and my phone number on it. So all in all… wonderful purchase.

        As I’ve shared, Panzer is a runner. However, he doesn’t get the opportunity to… but things can happen. So he’s chipped.

        I heard that bit about them not scanning like they should. You are right, there are 3 (I think) main companies that manufacture the chips and many pounds don’t scan for all 3 or even one. So yes, call call call. The cool thing about PetHub, if you lose your pet, you log in and say “I lost my pet”… and it gives you a list of what to do now. So that you can be methodically going down the list of what needs done to get your pet back.

        The other day on our walk, we had an ADORABLE “stray” come up to us. Her coat was somewhat matted. We scooped her up (only cause she was so friendly, and was making our dog get way excited when at his level… I don’t recommend picking up stray dogs as a normal practice)… she had a collar but no tags, a neighbor knew whose she was. I seriously doubt she was chipped given everything else going on with her… Frankly, we almost ended up with a second dog (we would have posted signs)… I’m not sure what the acceptable practice is here… but I will not turn over a dog like that to the pound. Makes no sense.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          Well around here the best thing to do is take a stray dog to the pound so its owner has a chance to claim it. The pound is a very safe place for a dog (where I live, anyway). If the owner doesn’t claim it, a rescue group will take it in. If I found a lost cat, I would also take it to the pound but only if the pound would let me adopt the cat if no one claimed it. I do believe the pounds will allow this. Even though they don’t adopt out to the public, I believe the “finder” can take the animal. But I would make sure of it before leaving a cat there, given our community’s poor record for getting cats out of the pounds alive.

          Oh and about your fee comment earlier, I don’t know what the answer is. The fees seem reasonable to me. I am not sure how many people decide not to pick up their cats because of the fees. I do wish they were less, but at the same time I don’t think they are outrageous.

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