November 23, 2012

Maine Voices: Cat owners can take simple steps to prevent suffering

Spaying and neutering are the top priority among efforts to ease Maine's homeless feline problem.


We Mainers should take pride in the progress we have made to combat dog overpopulation.

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Adopting a cat from a shelter or rescue group is a good deal, because spaying or neutering and vaccinations usually are already done.

Staff file photo

Because most people spay and neuter their dogs, except for a few breeds, we no longer have dog overpopulation in Maine.

Keep up the good work!

Unfortunately, we don't do so well by our cats. Much of the year, our animal shelters are at capacity with homeless felines.

Plus, many of our towns have large populations of homeless cats desperately trying to survive outside in the cold.

This all sounds so very academic on paper. Sigh, oh yes, too many cats.

However, when you look into the eyes of the hundreds of cats in our shelters or huddled under abandoned trailers or porches, you can see the real suffering -- the betrayed, frightened, scrawny, sick and hollow-eyed broken cats. Some are literally broken by cruelty.

This suffering is caused by Maine's cat owners, some of whom mean no harm.

Someone takes in a cat from the cold but doesn't "fix" it. Within a few months they have eight cats and a sign outside that says "kittens free to a good home."

Another just doesn't get around to spaying but says, "I find homes for all the kittens so it isn't a problem."

Well, that is a problem. For every kitten they give away, another homeless cat doesn't get a home.

Some heartless people drop cats off on highways or in the woods. Well, you get the picture.

Too many cats. Too few homes.

Still, this isn't hopeless. The solution to our cat problem is actually very simple:

The single most important thing you can do is spay or neuter your cat -- preferably before the first heat around five months of age. This prevents unpleasant female heat cycles and the resultant kittens. Plus, early neutering prevents the spraying behavior of intact males.

Don't treat your cat as a disposable commodity. Please, please give your cat a lifelong loving home -- not just until you move or have a baby. Like with people, expect widely varying personalities. Some cats are velcro kitties who need constant attention, some are more aloof and others in between.

Adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue group. They are such a deal. Most of Maine's shelter and rescue group cats are already spayed or neutered and have had their vaccines. The adoption price is far lower than the cost to have all the services performed on a "free" cat.

The Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, Marian's Dream and Spay Maine have collaborated to start a small ad campaign to try to change the hearts and minds of Mainers about cats.

This campaign is to convince Mainers to spay or neuter their cats by five months of age and to treat them with kindness -- not as disposable.

Maine's beloved humorist Tim Sample volunteered his time to make a public service announcement. This video can be seen and shared at, plus it is being aired on several cable stations.

If the cost of spaying and neutering is a problem, it has never been less expensive. If you live in southern, central or midcoast Maine, there are many low-cost spay/neuter options. If you go to, you will find a long list of low-cost spay/neuter programs around the state.

You will even find programs that are free or nearly free. Some of the programs are income-based and some are not. Plus, if there isn't a program near you, there is a statewide low-income voucher program called Help Fix ME (1-800-367-1317).

So please don't add to the suffering:

Keep your cat for life and spay or neuter, preferably before five months of age.

This is a kindness not just to the cats but also to all of the shelter and rescue workers who put their hearts and souls into caring for these homeless creatures.

Susan Hall of Falmouth is a member of the Animal Refuge League’s board of directors.


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