Where do cats in animal welfare come from?
There’s a common misconception that all cats in animal welfare are somehow faulty or broken and should, therefore, not be adopted as they will not make good pets. And while, yes, some cats are not really homeable (e.g. feral cats) the vast majority have absolutely nothing wrong with them. In fact, most are absolutely wonderful pets just waiting for the right home.
These are the top reasons, in our experience, why cats are surrendered.
- Finances. Owner can’t afford them anymore. This is the main reason why cats are surrendered to FAW and it has only become worse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated job losses.
- Lost cats. Many loving cats get lost and are never reunited with owners. These make up a large proportion of cats in shelters and it is why microchipping your pet is so important.
- Accommodation / Moving. These days, there is less pet-friendly accommodation out there, especially in the lower-priced category. Sometimes body corporates change the rules and people have to rehome their pet (which they were previously allowed to keep) unexpectedly, or the person is forced to move and can’t find pet-friendly accommodation.
- For their own safety. We frequently get cats surrendered to keep them safe. In some areas of South Africa, including Fisantekraal, some people are still highly superstitious about cats, considering them to be evil, possessed, or bad luck; they may throw boiling water or oil at them, chase them, or try to kill them. It is also common in our areas of operation for individuals to use cats as bait to train their dogs to attack, fight, and kill for organised dog fights. Owners surrender their cats because they have seen this happen to other cats nearby or have been threatened by neighbours who don’t want a cat near them; sometimes neighbours have seen the cat being harmed and call us in to help.
- New kitten. The owners get a kitten and don’t want the adult cat anymore. We also often get cats that have had a litter of kittens and the people decide to keep the babies and ditch the mother.
- Divorce/separation or other personal problems. Life happens and sometimes it is impossible for the pets to stay with their owners.
- Retirement villages, old age homes, frail care. Most of these facilities ban pets (even though having pets has been shown to help with many emotional and physical conditions). Sometimes people unexpectedly have to move into one of these facilities and they are forced to give up their pets, a situation which we find very sad, especially as they are often senior pets which stand little to no chance of being rehomed.
- Owner/family illness or disability. People with compromised immune systems are sometimes advised by their doctor to not keep pets due to risk of zoonoses. Disability may make it tough to care for a pet due to mobility issues. Additionally, illness and disability also impact on finances and accommodation.
- Death. The owner passes away and there is no one to take their animals. This is why we recommend that everyone has a will in which it is clearly stated what should become of their pets.
- Baby. People either don’t want a cat around, or they think the cat won’t like the baby. Nonsense myths like ‘cats steal the breath of a baby’ or ‘cats smother babies’ also play a role. In reality, most cats will stay far away from babies or be happy to snuggle up next to them for warmth. (We recommend not leaving animals alone with babies as there is a small possibility that a cat or dog could snuggle near the infant’s face – and young babies may not be able to turn their heads away.)
- Pregnancy. Cat litter trays can harbour toxoplasmosis and, as such, pregnant women are advised not to deal with cat litter boxes. However, in some cases, people will just get rid of their cat completely (often on doctor’s orders).
- Children. More often than not, on investigation, the children have been chasing or harassing the cat, which retaliated by scratching.
- Just one litter. Many of the cats and kittens that end up in welfare are from the people who thought that their cat should have a litter before being sterilised (a myth), or wanted to ‘experience the joy of having kittens’, or they didn’t think they needed to sterilise their cat, or they waited to long, or they just didn’t think about it. These may often be well cared-for household pets but their owners were just misguided and allowed them to have kittens. They then struggle to find homes or they find what they think are good homes but those people then let the cat breed, and so on. It does not take long to have a huge amount of homeless cats as a result of that ‘just one litter’.
- Emigration. Not everyone can take their pets when they emigrate. Sometimes a cat is too anxious, too old, or has a health condition (e.g. flat-faced cats don’t do well in planes), which makes it impossible to take them. It costs tens of thousands of Rands to send a pet overseas so it may be beyond the owner’s finances to afford this OR they won’t have a pet-friendly place to live when they get there.
- Work. People start working long hours or have to start travelling for work. They can’t keep putting the cat in catteries or getting pet sitters, or leaving the cat alone at home for 10 – 12 hours.
- Doesn’t get on with other pets or other pets don’t get on with it. We often have cats surrendered because it’s being attacked by the owner or neighbour’s dogs, or doesn’t get on with other cats in the house.
- Nuisance behaviour. Fighting, roaming, spraying, etc. are all cited as reasons for surrender. These are invariably unsterilised cats. We’ve also had cats surrendered for ‘stealing food’ or ‘digging in the bin’ and it turns out that owners didn’t feed them anything, thinking they’d survive on catching vermin. Once they’re in a home where they get regular food, they stop this behaviour.
- Dirt and fleas/ticks. The cat goes outside, rolls in dust, and brings this into the house. Or it tracks cat litter across the floor. Or it has fleas or ticks and the owner doesn’t like this and won’t or can’t afford to treat these things.
- Too much work. The owner will say ‘I can’t give them enough attention’, which generally translates to: it’s too much work.
- Allergy. Doctors will sometimes tell people to get rid of cats because of asthma or allergies; in some cases, they’ve had the cat for many years but the allergy is new.
- It’s not a cute baby anymore. They got it as a kitten and then, when it’s 6 to 8 months or older, it’s not so tiny and kittenish, and is a lot more work because it’s going through it’s ‘teenage’ phase, so they get rid of it (and get another kitten).
- Illness/injury of the cat. Sometimes an animal is surrendered because there’s ‘something wrong with it’ and the owner can’t afford to or doesn’t want to treat it. This can be anything from fleas and ticks, to injuries, illnesses, and anything in between. A lot of these are treatable. If they are not treatable and pose a lifetime of suffering on the animal, FAW will humanely put the cat to sleep and not rehome it. If the injury is treatable but may result in long-term issues (for example a broken leg that might later cause arthritis), we will always divulge this to potential adopters.
- ‘Not doing their job‘. In the areas in which we work, many people keep cats as pest control, particularly if they’re running a shop of some kind. If these cats do not catch mice and rats, they are deemed to not be useful and the owners will get rid of them.
- Kitten mills/backyard breeders. FAW does not generally deal with these kinds of cases but there are occasions when unscrupulous breeders are shut down or decide they no longer want to breed cats to make money. In these cases, it is generally purebred cats that are rescued but they often require rehabilitation in order to recover from their treatment at the hands of people who did not care for them.
- Rescue. In our experience (and this will vary between welfares), actual rescues of neglected or abused cats actually make up a pretty small proportion of the cats in looking for homes compared to all the strays and owner surrenders due to income, etc. Yet, when people think of adopting, they tend to think first of cats like this and are, understandably concerned about possible behavioural or health issues. Yes, some cats are rescued from bad situations in which they have been neglected or abused. Sometimes people move out and simply abandon their animals, or they hoard animals and end up with dozens. But, in general, we do not deal with that many cats like this. Even if the animal has been rescued from an abusive situation, this isn’t a guarantee that it will have behavioural problems or special needs.
Think about it: if the worst happened and you fell on hard times, and ended up without a home, would that make you less of a person? Would that somehow change your personality or make you unlovable? Of course not! So, why should being homeless mean that a cat is unlovable or isn’t deserving of a chance? It is us as human beings which have created a situation where cats find themselves homeless. It is up to us to be open minded enough to give them a chance.
A note about feral cats: Very few animal welfares rehome feral cats as true ferals are like wild animals and they do not want to live with people in houses. Semi-feral cats are usually cats that got lost or were abandoned and then ‘went wild’ in order to survive. These cats can often be rehabilitated and become pets, although they may always be wary of humans. FAW very rarely deals with feral cats.