Cats overwhelming shelters

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

A new county policy is putting more pressure on small animal shelters.

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control officials established a managed intake policy in October, taking in only 10 animals per day by appointment only, according to Jose Santiago, MCACC public information officer. The policy change was to address overcrowding at the county shelters.

“We were averaging a daily intake of about 50-60 animals between our field officers and the owner surrenders,” Mr. Santiago stated in an email. “By limiting the amount of owner surrenders we take in we can try and control the amount of animals we have here in the shelter.”

MCACC officials’ biggest issue is on the amount of dogs in the shelters.

Angie Grams, Sun City 4 Paws Cat Rescue manger, places two cats into a basket before returning them to the cage at the Sun City in-take facility.

“Since we don’t pick up stray cats, our cats are strictly owner surrenders inside the shelter,” Mr. Santiago explained.But the new policy is putting more pressure on small shelters, such as 4 Paws in Sun City, according to Angie Grams, Sun City 4 Paws manager.

“People who want to surrender cats, owned or strays, must either wait for an appointment or hope they get in within the allotted 10,” she said. “The majority of the rescues and shelters in the county that accept animals are also requiring intake appointments.”

Since there is never immediate space, people get frustrated and decide to just abandon them at various rescues, behind veterinarians offices, at pet stores, in feral colonies or the desert, Ms. Grams said.

Arizona law states that cats are free roaming and there are no licensing, leash or mandatory spay/neuter laws for cats. Due to the law, MCACC does not pick up stray cats unless they have bitten a person.

“So the ever growing overpopulation problem continues to grow since people do not spay and neuter, and since cats do get out or get thrown out, they continue to have babies,” Ms. Grams said.

The change to a controlled intake policy has generated some results, according to Mr. Santiago. From June to August 2017 MCACC officials took in 911 cats between the two shelters. From October to the end of December the number dropped to 705 cats total between the two shelters, he added.

“Not a significant drop, but it certainly helped,” Mr. Santiago stated.

While that has eased things a bit for the county, small shelter officials are seeing the issue shift to them, according to Ms. Grams.

“Since they are considered free roaming and can’t be picked up, people want to surrender the friendly strays or found kittens but do not want to pay a fee for rescues/shelters to take them (even the county shelter charges),” she said. “So they abandon, or ‘relocate’ them, when they can’t find a place that can take them.

“Relocation” is considered animal abandonment and is illegal in Arizona. ARS 13-2910 states: “Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly subjects any animal under the person’s custody or control to cruel neglect or abandonment.”

Ms. Grams believes Arizona’s laws regarding cats need to be adjusted.

“Until the laws are changed giving cats more protection and support in this county/state, and there are spay/neuter laws in place, this trend will continue to get worse,” she said.

There are many ways to get low cost spay and neuter in Maricopa County, even for feral cats). MCACC offer spay and neuter services because the animals benefit in a number of ways, according to Mr. Santiago. These include improved pet health, preventing uterine infections and breast cancer in female dogs and cats, and testicular cancer in male dogs and cats; neutered male dogs and cats are less likely to roam in search of a mate; neutered male dogs and cats are less likely to mark their territory; and neutered dogs and cats are less aggressive as studies show that most dog bites involve dogs that have not been altered.

The cost of paying for spay/neuter surgery is far less than the cost of caring for a litter of puppies or kittens, according to Mr. Santiago. Spaying and neutering will also help reduce the number of animals being euthanized in Maricopa County, he added.

While there is a cost to spay or neuter animals through MCACC, the agency does have options for those who cannot afford the cost.

But the county facilities distance from the Northwest Valley is also a deterrent for some residents, according to Ms. Grams. That contributes to added financial stress on small shelters. Maricopa County’s shelters are at 2630 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Mesa; and 2500 S. 27th Ave., Phoenix.

“The Surprise, Sun Cities and Youngtown areas do not have nearby spay/neuter clinic, thus adding to the problem,” she said.

As a smaller non-profit, Sun Cities 4 Paws does not get assistance from county, relying entirely on donations and the generosity of supporters. When 4 Paws officials get multiple cats left at the dumpsters and front doors, it pushes back the people who have scheduled, waited and are willing to pay surrender fees, Ms. Grams said.

“Most abandoned cats and kittens are not spay/neutered, not vaccinated, not tested for disease and those alone can cost up to $200 per cat/kitten, along with extra space, time and resources to care for them,” she explained. “In the past week, we received nine new cats that were abandoned or, as shelters call it, ‘dumped.’ None of these cats and kittens were fixed, tested for disease or vaccinated, and we are now put into a position to do all of this for them.”

Feral cats can be an issue in some communities, but according to responses Independent received from some Sun Cities residents, it is not a significant issue.

“We definitely do not have a cat problem here in our neighborhood; feral or otherwise,” Sun City resident Bob Eschenbacher stated in an email. “In fact, it’s been months since we’ve even seen a cat in this neck of the woods.”

He understands the issue exists, but does not believe his neighborhood has a problem.

Sun City West resident Don Block also stated in an email he has not seen cats in his neighborhood and has not heard other residents complaining about the issue.

Sun City West resident Joyce Bianchini did have a different experience in the past with a female cat going so far as to clawing through stucco to get into her attic.

“It took several attempts at scaring the cat before I got rid of it and patched the hole,” she stated in an email.

She believes Arizona laws should be changed to require cats to be confined the same as dogs.

“Capture if possible, destroy if not,” she stated.

Perhaps the Sun Cities lack of a major feral cat problem is a product of the environment. With more than 20 golf courses between the communities that attract rabbits, there are more coyotes in the Sun Cities than there may be in other communities. While in the communities hunting rabbits, coyotes will also feed on the stray cats and other small animals.

“Here cats have a different name. They’re called coyote food,” Mr. Eschenbacher stated.

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