Some of you probably don’t know this, but there’s an extensive network of people who transport cats from high-kill shelters in the South to rescue groups in northern states. Why? Because those cats wouldn’t stand a chance of adoption otherwise. They might be mothers with litters of kittens. They might have chronic illnesses like FIV. They might have injuries that these shelters simply don’t have the resources to treat.
But although the life-saving efforts of this "underground cat-road" delight and gratify me, there are plenty of people who resent it. "Why are shelters bringing cats from the South when there are so many cats here in Maine that need homes?" someone I know recently posted on Facebook.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this complaint.
I understand where these people are coming from. When you see homeless cats on the streets and in shelters in your own home state, it’s hard to believe anyone would think it’s a good idea to bring in more cats instead of helping the ones already here. However, I respectfully disagree.
Why? Well, first of all, it’s personal. I adopted a refugee from a high-kill shelter in Georgia — a mama cat who had a litter of five kittens and an aggression problem brought on by chronic pain. She and her kittens would have been killed in days if they hadn’t been rescued.
Second, I’ve seen it work. Samuel L. Catson was transported from Florida to HART of Maine, the shelter where I volunteer. Because he’s FIV-positive, he would have been killed immediately if he hadn’t been pulled by a rescue group. The overcrowded shelters in the South don’t have the room or resources to house a chronically ill cat who stands little chance of adoption. But here, he’s got a chance to find his forever home.
And hey, we actually have room here. Kitten season is off to a really slow start in Maine, thanks to massive free and low-cost spay/neuter programs. Adopt-a-thons have been incredibly successful here; in fact, last year an adoption event at the Bangor Humane Society left the shelter empty. Not a cat to be seen, except a few who were not yet available for adoption.
Here in Maine we transport animals between shelters. If a shelter in Presque Isle has too many cats while a shelter in Portland has empty cages, the Presque Isle cats go to Portland. What’s the difference between that and transporting from state to state?
Robin A.F. Olson, president and founder of Connecticut-based rescue Kitten Associates, said in a recent statement, "People have become outraged when they find out we rescue cats and kittens from kill shelters in the South. I say to them that they’re basing their anger on an arbitrary line in the sand called a state line. What if our state was as large as the entire USA, would it still matter so much? Are those cats any less deserving of rescue?"
No, they’re not. And I say if we’ve got room in Connecticut or Maine and the shelters in the Southeast are overcrowded, why shouldn’t we help out?
"For us, rescuing near home or from out of state happens when we have people come forward to offer to foster the cats since we don’t have a shelter space," Olson said. "I’ve easily found dedicated folks in the South and have teams in place to help cats there, but I’ve tried for three years to find ONE foster home locally to no avail. I’m left to foster local kitties when I have space in my home."
If we really want to solve the problem of too many cats and not enough homes, we need to encourage people to foster and adopt instead of wasting our energy complaining about how other people choose to save cats’ lives. And to you, the readers: Please foster or adopt cats if you can.
"A life saved is a life saved, regardless of where it comes from," Olson said. "We need to focus on spay/neuter legislation and making it more affordable for everyone, so we don’t even have to have this conversation."
What do you think? Have you helped to transport cats? Have you adopted a cat from another state? Have you seen the consequences, good or otherwise, of interstate cat transport? Sound off in the comments, and let’s talk!
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.