Spring 2012 Magazine

Cat Chat

Adopted Cats Equal Happy Cats

By Nancy Marano

The good news at Albuquerque Animal Welfare is the euthanasia rate for cats decreased by 32% in 2011 and the adoption rate increased by 28%. In 2011, 3,504 cats were euthanized compared to 5,141 in 2010 while adoptions went to 4,427, up from 3,456 in 2010.

The shelter took in 9, 812 cats last year which is up 1% from the previous year's total of 9, 721. No matter how you look at it , this is a huge number of cats. "We don't have an explanation for why the intake numbers are up," Bruin said.

While the good numbers are impressive, they are just numbers. Let's look at one particular case that demonstrates the new policies at Animal Welfare.

Zeus came to the Eastside Shelter from a hoarder's home. He is a large, brown tabby who was born in the wrong place. He lived at the shelter for a while without being adopted. Then his name turned up on the euthanasia list Barbara Bruin, Director of Albuquerque Animal Welfare, receives daily. She looked at this handsome boy and knew there was no way he would be euthanized.

"He was gorgeous. Basically he was put on the list because he sneezed and someone decided he might be coming down with a cold. I took his name off the list and sent him to Lucky Paws, the shelter extension in Coronado Mall," Bruin said.

Cats and dogs who come to Lucky Paws are given more individual attention and a much better chance of being adopted. There aren't as many animals there and adoption counselors work closely with potential adopters to find the right animal for them. Zeus lived at Lucky Paws several months.

Pat Harding, a volunteer with Albuquerque Animal Welfare and Kennel Kompadres as well as an All-Breed judge for The International Cat Association (TICA), saw Zeus in the large display window at Lucky Paws.

"Where did he come from?" she asked. She learned he'd been in the shelter system for seven months between the East Side shelter and Lucky Paws. Harding adopted him immediately. "I'm going to name him Lucky Paws and call him Lucky," she told the staff.

Lucky is an outgoing cat who knows how to pose. He has the long legs of a Savannah cat and moves like his wilder brothers. Harding took him to a cat show in Albuquerque entering him as a household pet. Lucky won everything at the show. The judges were amazed at his beauty and temperament. He went to another show in Tucson gaining enough points to become a Triple Grand Champion Alter in TICA. Now Lucky, formerly known as Zeus, is the poster boy for shelter adoptions and an example of how new policies at the Albuquerque shelters are helping cats.

"I come in every day with the goal of getting each individual animal out of here," Bruin said. This attitude and new policies seem to be working. Bruin credits several factors for making the cat numbers better than they've ever been.

The new building attracts people. "It isn't like going to the pound. The cats look happier and are happier in the new cat space which has windows and sunshine. The cats are in large rooms with a cat tree, as well as food, water and a litter box," Bruin explained. The cats have room to play and people can view them without the hindrance of cage bars. The whole area is more congenial to the idea of taking a cat home.

The cats are healthier and kept healthy more easily with the new cat rooms. Cats used to be in stacked cages. People often touched the cats through the bars. Casual touching can spread disease in a cattery. Bruin said, "People can't touch the cats and pass disease from one to another so they are protected from one another's germs. It is a less stressful environment for them. Cats are very delicate when it comes to stress."

The main enemy of shelter cats is upper respiratory infection (URI). Most cats come into the shelter with the herpes virus in their system. The combination of transmission from cat to cat and stress from being in the shelter can cause the virus to become active.

"We treat cats with URI rather than euthanizing them as they used to do. URI is totally treatable and adult cats do not die from it. They are isolated in the treatment rooms which are closed off to prevent the spread of infections. If the three treatment rooms are full, we send URI cats to foster caregivers who care for them at home. Sometimes we give antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections," Bruin said. "Some cats have been treated more than once for URI before they are adopted."

The shelter foster program is vigorous and busy since Dr. Vigil, one of the five shelter veterinarians, took charge of it several years ago. "URI cats often heal more quickly if we can get them out of the shelter and into a foster home. To foster a URI cat is a commitment of about 10 days to 2 weeks. This works for a lot of people who want to help but can't commit an infinite amount of time. We've been building our foster program because people want to be part of something that saves lives," Bruin said.

The aim of all the shelter programs is to lower intake rates. "We get over 25,000 animals a year at the shelter. That is obscene. My goal is to reduce the intake with a vigorous spay/neuter program. We received fewer kittens this year which makes us think the spay and neuter programs are paying off. We are active with rescue groups who have Trap/Neuter/Return programs. We neuter or spay the cats and allow the rescue group to put them back into managed colonies."

Another tactic to lower intake is to educate owners. "Cats used to be euthanized if they were brought back for litter box issues. This was because the shelter automatically took the person's word without finding out what was causing the problem. Now when a cat is returned, we dig deeper and show the owner ways to solve the problem. The cat was using the box at the shelter so the problem isn't insurmountable. We have handout sheets with hints on what to do. Sometimes it is as simple as having more litter boxes in the household," Bruin said. "We want to enable people to keep a pet they adopted from us not return it."

The new attitude at the shelter is obvious when you walk in the door. People are friendly and offer to help you find an animal or answer your questions. The result, as shown in the numbers, but they can always use more community support and help.

Consider signing up to be a foster parent for URI cats or cats who need to be socialized and used to people. Mama cats with kittens need foster homes until they are ready to be adopted. You can also volunteer at the shelter to groom or pet cats. Opportunities exist in the treatment rooms to comfort sick kitties, change litter boxes, clean cages and give cats' attention and affection.

"We want people to volunteer using their strengths. If you want to do clerical work, help fundraise or take videos of cats to help them get adopted, we welcome you," Bruin said.

Take time to check out what's going on at the City shelters. You might be surprised at the improvements. Then consider offering your services to make the adoption rate go even higher this year. The cats will thank you.

If you wish to volunteer, call 311 or go to: www.cabq.gov/pets/volunteer-and-donate/volunteer-with-us.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by three cats, Sammy, Callie and Max. Callie and Max are new additions to the family. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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