So much love is in the air during springtime that feline communities across America are experiencing a population explosion. As spring is mating season for cats, hundreds of unwanted kittens are flooding animal shelters everywhere, arousing desperate needs for more volunteers and foster parents.
Currently, there is a trap-neuter-release program at the local Ithaca Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals designed to control the wild cat population. The wild cats are captured, vaccinated and neutered or spayed, and then released back into the streets. The cats that go through this program are no longer capable of reproducing and are even less likely to be disease carriers.
Due to the increased number of kittens in need of foster parents, the animal shelter is also implementing a comprehensive adoption program to help the kittens find suitable homes in response to “kitten season.”
“We are looking for students, volunteers, anyone who would make good foster parents,” Brookner said. “We provide the food supply and the training [for the foster parent]. The younger the kittens are, the more intensive care they will need,” she added.
“Kitten season” is a phenomenon that creates problems in animal shelters every spring, according to Leah Brookner, volunteer director at the Ithaca SPCA. According to PetPlace.com, cats’ breeding cycles are influenced by many factors such as increases in length of daylight and temperature. Both of these factors are characteristic of the spring season, thus resulting in an annual exponential increase in the kitten population.
“We’ve all heard of tax season, tourist season and baseball season, but have you heard of kitten season?” Virginia Moore, a senior at Ithaca College who volunteers at the Ithaca animal shelter, stated in an e-mail. “[It] happens as the warm weather instigates a mating frenzy among cats. … And while a few of these kittens may have a home, most end up in animal shelters that are then pushed beyond their resources by the inundation of so many animals,” Moore added.
Since heat increases fertility in cats, many adoption groups have also attributed the recent rise in the scale of “kitten season” to global warming.
“Cats are typically warm-weather, spring-time breeders,” Kathy Warnick, president of Pets Across America, told LiveScience. “However, states that typically experience primarily longer and colder winters are now seeing shorter, warmer winters, leading to year-round breeding.”
“[The other day] someone brought in two litters of one week old kittens. Their mother was ran over by a car, and these kittens were not weaned yet,” Brookner said. “We rely heavily on foster parents. By the end of the summer, there will be [over 600] kittens crowded in the shelter,”she added, noting that there have been an increase in cats coming into the shelters since spring began.
The increase in the number of kittens can be quite a problem. Cats generally experience their first estrus, or mating, cycle when they are six months old, according to TalkToTheVet.com. A female cat generally has two to four estrus cycles per year, each lasting about 15 to 22 days. They can also have a second estrus cycle one to six weeks after giving birth, which means they could be pregnant with another litter while still nursing their newborns.According to Brookner, kitten season becomes especially problematic when unwanted kittens end up abandoned and form feral cat colonies. These cats hide in people’s houses, dig through trash cans, prey on birds and squirrels and spread diseases. Since they are wild, reproduction in these cats are also more difficult to control, Brookner said.
The SPCA has been relatively unaffected by the current recession. Despite common misconception, the SPCA is a private, non-profit organization funded mostly by grants and private donations that have remained steady during the economic downturn, according to Brookner. Therefore, the government budget cuts in Ithaca will not effect funding at the SPCA.
“We could be doing better in a [healthier] economy, but we are meeting our goals,” said Maggie thomas, director of development. “The community here has been extraordinarily supportive.”