Odds on healthy survival for four little kittens born to a feral gray tabby mother cat in Columbus went up recently. They — and mama cat — were brought into the Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society on April 1. It’s the second litter to come through the shelter’s doors this year, but CLHS Executive Director Karen Johnwick knows these furry little ones signal what is typically an explosion of kitten births experienced every spring. The issue is a big one for all animal shelters.
“In 2020, in six months we took in a little over 800 cats and kittens. Ninety percent of that was kittens,” said Johnwick. “We hope this year will be less.”
Cats left entire contribute to the almost two million felines euthanized each year in animal control facilities nationwide, according to national statistics. Johnwick joins with other area shelters, united in a message to pet owners: Please get cats spayed or neutered. The time is now.
After a short winter hiatus, unspayed and unneutered cats resume breeding as weather warms, and they can keep it up until winter cold sets in again. Dogs go into season up to twice a year, but once cats reach the age of four to six months, they are capable of breeding every three weeks until they become pregnant, Johnwick said. They can have several litters each year, adding to the overpopulation of too-many cats competing for too-few homes.
“Typically the least amount of cats we’ll get in per month is about 40,” said Johnwick. “The worst is close to 100 per month. There have been many years that we have had kittens all year-round.”
Neely Bryan is a self-described spay/neuter fanatic. She is executive director of the West Point Clay County Animal Shelter, a no-kill facility.
“A single pair of cats and their offspring can produce thousands of kittens over the years,” Bryan said. “Every mother (cat) out there having three or four litters of kittens a year, and those kittens have kittens, and it’s a never-ending cycle.”
So many kittens on the ground increases rates of illness and inbreeding. Mortality rates rise. Bryan believes most people would have more urgency to spay and neuter if they could witness the level of suffering among cat populations that she has seen.
Johnwick noted, “One of the biggest things here lately is people calling and complaining that people are overfeeding feral cats, and then the cats are multiplying, more of them coming, climbing on cars and spraying in garages …”
She added, “Unless you’re a registered breeder, there’s no need to have a litter of kittens or puppies. If you’re wanting to play with babies, just go to a shelter and volunteer.”
Bryan, who sees about 200 cats come through the Clay County shelter annually, concurred. “Spaying and neutering is the No. 1 most important thing to do as a pet parent.”
Even as shelters try to prepare for the spring and summer influx of kittens, the directors hold out hope that this year the impact of Operation Colony Cat will be reflected in lower numbers.
“I’m praying it makes a big difference for us,” said Johnwick.
Terri Doumit of Lowndes County spearheads the volunteer group focused on aiding cats and kittens living in feral colonies, primarily through a TNR program — trap, neuter, release. It also pairs, as does the Columbus shelter, with partners like the Oktibbeha County Humane Society to find foster and adoption options for cats that can be placed in new homes in states to the north.
“Another goal we have is to reduce the number of homeless animals,” said Doumit. “This became part of our mission when we realized how many animals are dumped out in our area.”
Since January of this year, Operation Colony Cat has already spayed or neutered 385 cats in Lowndes and surrounding counties, Doumit confirmed.
Bryan said, “Terri Doumit is a mothership. What she does is unbelievable. She’s been a force for the cat world.”
“We want people to be responsible, and even in the best of circumstances, some don’t spay and neuter and it creates real overpopulations here in the South. Shelters just can’t prepare for kitten season; you just do the best with the resources available.”
Fortunately there is help available for those who need it when it comes to spaying or neutering. First and foremost, Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society encourages everyone who can to have the procedures done at a local veterinarian’s office. It’s important to have a relationship with a vet for the long-term well-being of any family pet. But for people in need, a low-cost spray/neuter program is available at the shelter. The waiting list can be weeks long.
West Point Clay County Animal Shelter Office Manager Melanie Elmore said a grant through the Mississippi auto tag program allows that facility to provide spay/neuter assistance at reduced cost for Clay County residents who qualify. The Oktibbeha County shelter also offers assistance, Elmore said. The Dispatch was unable to reach a representative of that shelter by press time.
Back in Columbus, the four kittens and their gray tabby mother are doing well. When the babies attain a certain weight and are good and healthy, they will be available to new homes. Mama cat will be spayed and “if we can get her friendly enough, she’ll be put up for adoption,” Johnwick said. Otherwise, she may have a future as a barn mouser. What she won’t be doing is producing litter after litter, year after year.
“Just do it,” said Johnwick. “Spaying and neutering saves lives.”
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.