Serving Animals: When the Bond Breaks

Millions of cats are surrendered to animal shelters every year. Some shelters are implementing new options for cat owners who feel they have no choice but to surrender their pet.

By Susan Easterly | Posted: Tue Mar 20 00:00:00 PST 2001

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Peggy A. Bender, FWAC&C's humane education specialist, chooses the topics and offers helpful tips on the air, such as using scratching posts, safe toys and indoor perches. Her favorite topic is "Tolerance, an Essential Element for Successful Pet Ownership." "We spend a great deal of our resources and energy putting out accurate information about cats throughout the year," she says. "We want people to know what is realistic to expect from a cat."

- Monadnock Humane Society (West Swanzey, N.H.): Implemented surrender counseling and requires an appointment before adult cats can be surrendered. "We are finding what used to be an emergency is now an, 'OK, I guess we can wait a couple of weeks' situation," says Roberta L. Troughton, MSW, chief executive officer. "That actually buys us some time to work on the relationship between the human and the animal." In one specific case, an owner added a second cat to her household and a litterbox problem followed. Troughton advised giving both cats a room of their own and their own litterbox for awhile, and it worked to clear up the problem.

Shelter workers use the time to help cat owners resolve pet behavior problems in many cases the original owners decide to keep their cats. Other cats find new permanent homes without entering the shelter, thanks to the society's Rehoming Service for Valued Pets program, a pet-matching service that logs a cat's story and photo into a catalog and bulletin board available at the shelter. The only requirement: Pets must be spayed or neutered. "We understand that for a variety of legitimate reasons people cannot always maintain a lifelong relationship with their pet," Troughton says. "But they can maintain lifelong responsibility for their pet they can see their pet safely from their home to another."

The nature and scope of the pet overpopulation problem including the number of animal shelters in the United States, the animals passing through them and the characteristics of pet owners who surrender them have made it difficult to determine why owners relinquish them, says Mo D. Salman, DVM, Ph.D. Salman is a professor of veterinary epidemiology (the study of epidemics) at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo., and the senior author of a groundbreaking study on pet relinquishment to shelters in the United States.

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