Kittens are cute, cuddly and, in Jackson County, pandemic.
Every day, the staffs at SoHumane.org, Jackson County Animal Services, Sanctuary One, and Committed Alliance to Strays (C.A.T.S.), face the challenge of providing care and finding homes for hundreds of cats and kittens. And more are waiting to get in.
Consider the recent experience of a citizen who took in a pregnant stray cat that had a litter of five kittens and then struggled to find them homes. Unfortunately, before she could place them, the kittens developed ringworm (a fungal infection, not an actual worm) and she turned to Jackson County for help.
The problem in this case — and in many cases — is the Catch 22 of whose kittens they are. By choosing to care for these kittens and try to find them homes, the person made them her kittens. As such, they are not considered strays. Because the Jackson County Animal Shelter was full of stray cats and kittens in their adoption and holding areas, they could not take in more "owner-surrendered" cats or kittens.
SoHumane, had it been approached, would not have accepted the mom or kittens either. First, because they had ringworm and had the potential to infect the current animal population, and second, because there were no available fosters. C.A.T.S., which is focused on the stray cat population in Jackson County, would also have been unable to take in the kittens because they were not, technically, strays — after all, they had been in a home where they received food and care for more than 30 days.
In this case, because of the risk of further contamination to the public, Jackson County made an exception to policy and took in the mother and kittens, knowing they could not be treated or later adopted out.
These kittens are simply a symptom of animal overpopulation. The cause, at its root, is humanity's careless attitude toward domestic animals. Cats let out at night to roam, cultural attitudes toward spaying and neutering of animals, and lack of awareness of the plight of unaltered, outdoor-only cats.
Regardless of whether the cat and kittens were strays or belonged to her, taking them in and caring for them did nothing to address the causes of this problem.
The reality is that these kittens and the hundreds of other kittens born every day in Jackson County do belong to someone. They belong to you. They belong to your neighbors and they belong to your elected officials. This is a communitywide problem that cannot be addressed, let alone solved, by any one organization or agency.
So, what can you do about it?
Spay and neuter your own pets, even if they never go outside. It only takes one open door to create hundreds of offspring.
Don't breed pets for profit — or simply to recoup your "investment" after purchasing an animal from a breeder. With the overabundance of animals available for adoption at SoHumane, C.A.T.S., Sanctuary One and Jackson County, there is no excuse — absolutely none — for allowing your animals to reproduce.
Just say "no" to those "free kittens" in the grocery store parking lot. There is nothing free about a kitten that has not been altered nor received basic shots and preventatives.
Instead of investing in bags of cat food to feed all the strays in your neighborhood, work with your neighbors to capture the cats and have them altered. Programs like Spay and Neuter Your Pets (www.spayneuter.org) can work with you.
Don't buy a pet, adopt one, thus lowering the demand for animals being sold or "re-homed" on community websites.
Ask your school to provide education on humane treatment of animals and on spay/neuter.
Insist that your elected officials work together on a countywide initiative to begin to address this out-of-control cat situation. This is a multidecade initiative that will require all of us to take the long view and focus on causes, not symptoms.
Note: The weekend of Nov. 9-10, Jackson County, C.A.T.S., Sanctuary One, and SoHumane will be waiving the adoption fee on all cats that are one year or older. Last year, this successful event found homes for more than 110 cats and temporarily emptied the participating shelters. Sadly, these organizations filled up with cats within a week. This year, our goal is to find homes for more than 150 cats and to continue working together to address the cause of the overpopulation of stray cats in Jackson County. Visit each organization's Web site for details.
Kenn Altine is executive director of the Southern Oregon Humane Society.