Teresa Chagrin, Tribune News Service
“Just leave the baby on the street, where you found her.” What if you found a crying human infant alone on the sidewalk and this was what a 911 operator told you to do? It would be unthinkable, right? Yet this is what some animal shelters are instructing people to do if they find kittens outdoors — to leave them there. Some groups are even pushing this dangerous advice in newspaper opinion pieces. But leaving kittens on the streets is the opposite of what a shelter should be doing (sheltering!). It’s a death sentence for these vulnerable animals.
Cats are domesticated animals — not wildlife — and they are not equipped to survive outdoors. A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 75% of kittens born outdoors died or “disappeared” before they were 6 months old. Their leading cause of death? Trauma. Predators, traffic, cruel people and other dangers kill kittens and cats every day. Most of these casualties are not seen, reported or tracked. Here are just a few of those that have made headlines in recent months:
A homeless kitten in Washington state was found with his abdomen sliced open, exposing his internal organs. Both of his hips were fractured, and he was weak and sick with a severe infection. In Maryland, a kitten was discovered with a fractured leg, which had to be amputated. Six homeless kittens in Utah were found dead on the side of a road after they had apparently been tortured.
The elements are another deadly threat. In Wyoming, a kitten endured frostbite so severe that her bottom lip was detached from her jaw and all of her toes, both ears and most of her tail were dead. Four homeless kittens in Tennessee were found in a freezing-cold garage; one had already died, and two were “blue in the face and barely breathing.” A kitten in Wyoming froze to the bottom of a kiddie pool, was suffering from hypothermia and an upper respiratory infection and had lost both ears and a toe to frostbite.
Contagious diseases also kill countless kittens and cats. Upper respiratory infections tore through a feline colony in Colorado, killing many cats and leaving three kittens with ruptured eyes that had to be surgically removed. In Georgia, a homeless kitten with an injured leg was euthanized and tested positive for rabies after he began “aggressively attacking any objects presented to him,” “displaying signs of paralysis, vocalizing loudly, [and] had dilated pupils and hydrophobia.”
Kittens simply don’t stand a chance against the countless dangers they face outdoors. As a good Samaritan in Ohio who tried to help an abandoned kitten wrote, “This kitten was so badly bruised, she couldn’t hold her head up. I held her in my hands and felt her bones. I couldn’t watch her die. I took her to an emergency veterinary center … They couldn’t save her, but she knew love before she closed her eyes.”
That kitten was more fortunate than many. Most animals who die on the streets never experience even a moment of comfort or kindness from humans.
If they manage to survive long enough, cats who haven’t been sterilized will reproduce, adding to the companion animal overpopulation crisis and the number of animals suffering on the streets. And all cats, including those fed by humans, instinctively attack, maim and kill birds, small mammals and other vulnerable wildlife who are already struggling to survive.
Given these horrific outcomes, why would any “shelter” or “rescue organization” discourage people from getting felines off the streets? For many of these groups, it’s a shameless attempt to boost “live-release” rates by keeping animals out at all costs, thereby dodging the responsibility of caring for and potentially having to euthanize them for humane reasons or in order to accommodate other homeless animals. This deceptive strategy allows shelters to report high “live-release” rates and low rates of euthanasia. But is leaving kittens to die outdoors, terrified and in pain, really a better option? Of course not.
The streets are no place for kittens, cats or any other domesticated animals. Please, if you see kittens or any other companion animals outdoors, do everything you can to get them and their mothers off the streets and into a safe place.
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