County's cats need our care
February is National Spay and Neuter Month, a fact I am going to return to by the time I am done with this column. But first I will digress.
Retirement is lovely in many, many ways, but it is an adjustment. One does have to, as they say, get a life. For me, the most challenging aspect has been the drastic change in my social life.
As a school counselor, I easily interacted with at least 100 people every day. Granted, most of them were under the age of 12, and by the time I crawled home after a normal school day, I was too exhausted to care if I talked to anyone else ever — but I did have a social life. The day after I retired, I looked around to find I had exactly one husband and four dogs to talk to. I was rested, relaxed, and somewhat lonely. Changes needed to be made.
Fortunately, we live in a community where, if you are bored, it may very well be your own fault. We have a wealth of activities, including the artistic, educational and health-oriented, that are open to just about anyone. I have been drawn to the opportunities to volunteer.
I have become a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which really is a stimulating and important way to make a contribution. I still volunteer at Dayton Grade School, where I used to teach. And I have started to attend the monthly meetings of the Cat Coalition of Yamhill County, and that group and its goals are what I want to write about today.
I confess that I may have thought the Cat Coalition would consist of a group of elderly ladies covered with cat hair sitting around a table knitting doilies for the next Homeward Bound fundraiser. However, it took me about one minute to figure out that nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, it is a group of intelligent, dedicated and determined individuals who share a common compassion for the inhumane existence many, many cats in our county are forced into, and share a commitment to change that existence to a much better one.
In the course of getting acquainted with the folks in the Cat Coalition, I have had to do some soul searching myself. I think I am a humane person, and although I am by no stretch an animal rights activist, I think I weigh in against cruelty to animals most of the time. But the truth is, I may not be what I think I am.
I would be outraged if I witnessed a deliberate act of cruelty to a dog or a cat. But I am afraid I tolerate to a shameful degree the ongoing, terrible conditions that thousands of cats in Yamhill County live in. I just ignore it. Not much to be proud of.
I also realize that I would not ignore, let alone tolerate, this sad state of affairs if it were thousands of dogs facing starvation, disease, predators and homelessness. I would be out there campaigning with fervor to have them sheltered, fed, safe, healthy. The truth is, I do not value cats in the way, and to the depth, that I value dogs. Maybe that’s true for you as well. It is apparently true for many people in Yamhill County. And it is certainly not the cats’ fault.
In 2011, a nonprofit organization called Shelter Planners for America came to Yamhill County at the request of our own private not-for-profit shelter, Homeward Bound Pets. Its purpose was to assess the extent of the problem of homeless companion animals in our county, to look at the resources available to address the problem, and to make some recommendations. If you love animals, you will find their conclusions very unsettling.
The (human) population of Yamhill County is just over 100,000. The rule of thumb established by people who know much more about this topic than I do is that the population of unwanted dogs and cats in any one area is about 3 percent of the number of people living there. In our case, that means that we generate about 3,000 homeless and neglected animals each year. Homeward Bound Pets placed 285 cats last year, and that was a banner year. You may already know that Yamhill County Dog Control offers no refuge or rescue for cats. The difference between 3,000 and 285 is the number of cats suffering within an easy drive of my house and yours.
The other finding by Shelter Planners of America is that Yamhill County, unlike many counties, does not have an open door animal shelter. An open door shelter is generally funded, at least partially, by public funds (aka tax dollars) and operates pretty much the way the name describes. An open door shelter takes in any and all cats or dogs brought to its door regardless of age, health, behavior or owner’s ability to pay a fee; no one is ever turned away.
These are not, by necessity, no-kill shelters. No one is turned away, but space and resources are limited. Some animals are euthanized, but none are left out in the cold to be victims of disease, predators, starvation, or accidents, and to produce more dogs and cats that will suffer the same fate.
According to Shelter Planners of America, if you don’t have an open door shelter and you do want to stop the suffering of unwanted animals, you must have an accessible and affordable spay and neuter clinic, which we also don’t have in Yamhill County. But the dedicated members of the Cat Coalition of Yamhill County are committed to changing that.
I wrote a column last year about the spay and neuter program for cats that we currently have here. Every second Thursday of the month, volunteers load cats into carriers and carriers into vans and drive off to Tigard, where a spay and neuter clinic performs an operation on every cat. Each cat is returned to its owner that evening, and one small step is taken toward controlling the overpopulation of cats in our county. But the analogy of a finger in the dike comes to mind.
Each month, the program assists in the neutering or spaying of between 30 and 50 cats, plus another 35 or so go to the Tigard spay and neuter clinic with their own owners at scheduled appointments. It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out that it is not enough, not nearly enough, to solve the problem.
How to fund a local, affordable, accessible clinic is the focus of every meeting of the Cat Coalition, and I have to say that in the few meetings I have attended so far, I am very impressed with the ideas for funding, housing, and staffing such a facility in the hopefully not-too-far-off future.
The thing is, as committed and resourceful as are the people who serve on the coalition, it is not just their problem. If I love animals as much as I like to think I do, I am going to have to shoulder some of the responsibility of creating a clinic, as well. If we all share in its creation, the sacrifice for each of us will be small.
If you live in a neighborhood like mine, it is very tempting to just bury your head in the sand and ignore the problem. We average about two cats per block, all of them look well cared for, and since I rarely see even one kitten, let alone a litter of kittens, I can safely assume that they all are spay or neutered.
But, if you talk to any member of the Cat Coalition of Yamhill County, they can tell you of any number of places where dozens of cats are left to starve or die in some other cruel way. We really need to care.
Nancy Carlson can be reached at email@example.com.