Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
Why do we need data on unowned cats? How many unowned cats are in this country? Do we need to know how many unowned cats there are? We cannot solve a problem until it is first defined.
Five years ago nobody knew exactly how many unowned/stray or feral cats there were. We suspected there were a lot, but didn't have hard data.
We knew there were lots of cats and kittens entering the shelters, but we didn't know how many of them were unsuitable for adoption because they were wild, or how many were unweaned kittens, or how many were sick or injured.
We knew a problem needed to be solved, but there was no data to provide solutions, or to even pinpoint exactly what the problem was, other than a rough statement that "too many dogs and cats are entering the shelters."
Five years ago National Pet Alliance set out to find the answers to some of these questions. We raised funds and received a matching grant from CFA to do a random survey of 1000 households in Santa Clara County.
For those of you unfamiliar with this county, it is otherwise known as Silicon Valley, and encompasses San Jose and a dozen other smaller cities and towns. San Jose is the 11th largest city in the country. The population of the county is over 800,000.
Dr. Roger Nassar, the statistician who did the Las Vegas survey on dogs and cats, helped us design the questionnaire and calling patterns.
What we found from the survey astounded us. We asked one question on stray cats -- "Are you feeding stray cats? If so, how many?" 40% of the known cat population were unowned strays, county wide. 40%! But in the rural areas it was 63%. This is an incredible number. We must also understand that these cats are, for the most part, a couple of cats on the doorstep.
After obtaining these results, we were eager to delve into the unowned cat issues further, and were delighted to have the opportunity to do another random survey in San Diego County in 1994.
This time we asked more questions about unowned cats and found Santa Clara County is not the only county feeding strays.
In San Diego, 36% of households were also feeding stray cats. We also found 53% of the kittens known to have been produced by these stray cats disappeared. No one did anything about them.
When we know that the vast majority of owned cats are altered, and that the vast majority of unowned cats are not, and that 53% of the stray kittens born disappear into the neighborhood to produce more, it is easy to see where the problem lies.
There are only 4 ways to handle stray cats:
In San Diego, the Feral Cat Coalition decided they would try the trap/alter/release method. With donations only, from 1992-1994, they altered over 3100 trapped cats. 72% of the females were either in heat, pregnant or lactating. Over the same time period, Animal Control reported a 35% reduction in stray cat intakes, and a 40% reduction in cat euthanasias. There was no other explanation for the drop.
The City of San Jose, in an effort to appease the warring factions, decided to fund a free voucher program to alter any cat. Almost two years later, over 6000 cats have been altered, 1/2 of which were strays, and 60% female. We have yet to see a large drop in shelter stray cat intakes, no doubt due to the small number of strays altered in relation to the huge number in the city. But, we are hopeful that the low numbers of kittens in the shelter this summer, and the very few ads in the paper for kittens, are a result of the program.
Tomorrow, I will go into detail on the data which has been collected from our various research projects, and compare it to other research which has been done. We feel strongly that all the facts collected point to only one conclusion:
Owned cats are not the cause or the solution to the problem of too many cats entering the shelters. Unowned cat reproduction must be addressed -- not by new laws--but by making it as easy as possible for citizens to round up and alter as many stray cats as possible.
We believe more research is needed:
We are interested in doing the research, but need funding. The more data we have, the sooner we will completely define the problem, and the sooner all of us will be able to solve the problem of too many stray cats entering the shelter, and raise the status of cats.
Four Study Comparison, Alternatives and Conclusions (presented Sunday, August 10, 1996)