Help Save Cats



Cats have long been valued by humans for companionship and are the most popular companion animal. There are over 500 million domestic cats throughout the world. Descended from African wildcats, they began to share homes with humans about 10,000 years ago.

Domestic cats are still similar in anatomy to wild cats, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws and teeth adapted to killing small prey. They have excellent hearing, sense of smell and night vision.

Cats are felids, which are mammals that include lions, tigers, cougars, jungle cats, wildcats, mountain cats, sand cats and other wild cats. They all share a common ancestor that lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia.

Domestic cats are not radically different from wildcats, so they can interbreed. Unlike dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process. They are still capable of surviving in the wild.

Despite being solitary hunters, cats are social animals and communicate with a variety of vocalizations, as well as cat pheromones and body language. They are known for their love of play. They also engage in play fighting with each other, other species and humans.

Fascinating Cat Facts

  • A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tomcat", an unaltered female is called a "queen" and a baby cat is referred to as a "kitten".
  • Most cats weigh between 8.8 and 11 lb, though some, such as the Maine Coon, can weigh over 25 lb. Very small cats can weigh 4 lb or less. The largest cat on record weighed 47 lb. The smallest adult cat on record weighed 3 lb.
  • The average lifespan of a cat is 12.1 years, while some live much longer. The oldest cat on record lived 38 years.
  • Female cats tend to be right pawed, while male cats are more often left pawed.
  • Cats have the cognitive ability to sense human emotions and mood.
  • Cat can travel at a top speed of approximately 31 mph over short distances.
  • Cats greet one another by rubbing their noses together.
  • Cats usually only meow to communicate with humans, not other cats.
  • Cats sleep 70% of their lives.
  • Cats make over 100 different sounds.
  • Cat brains are 90% similar to human brains — more similar to human brains than dog brains.
  • Cats have survived falls from over 32 stories onto concrete, due to their “righting reflex.”
  • The ability of cats to find their way home is called “psi-traveling.” Cats either use the angle of sunlight, or magnetized cells in their brains, as compasses.
  • Most cats don't have eyelashes.
  • Cats dislike the water because their fur does not insulate well when wet.
  • Cat noses are ridged with a unique pattern, just like human fingerprints.
  • Cats rub against humans to be affectionate and to mark their territory with scent glands located around their faces, tail area and paws.
  • Adult cats have 30 teeth; kittens have 26 teeth.
  • Cats are extremely sensitive to vibrations and can detect earthquakes 15 minutes before humans.
  • Eating grass rids a cats' system of fur and aids digestion.
  • In one litter of kittens, there can be multiple fathers.
  • A cat's back paws aren’t as sharp as their front paws because the back claws don’t retract and thus get worn.
  • Cats have 1,000 times more data storage than an iPad.
  • Cats can change their meow to manipulate humans.
  • Cats can detect cancer.

Amazing Abilities

Extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's spinal mobility and flexibility. Unlike human arms, cat arms are attached to the shoulder by free-floating bones that allow them to fit through any space they can fit their heads. A cat's skull is unusual among mammals, having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw. Within the jaw, cats have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat.

Cats, like dogs, walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of their leg. They are capable of walking very precisely by placing each back paw directly in the spot of the corresponding front paw, minimizing noise and tracks. This also provides sure footing when navigating rough terrain. Unlike most mammals, cats move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. Camels and giraffes also walk this way. As their walk speeds into a trot, a cat's gait changes to that of most other mammals.

Cats have protractable and retractable front claws. In their normal position, the claws are retracted to keep them sharp by preventing wear. This allows the silent stalking of prey. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws for hunting, climbing, self-defense, kneading or for extra traction on certain surfaces.

Cats are able to tolerate quite high temperatures. They conserve heat by reducing the flow of blood to their skin and lose heat by evaporation through their mouths. They can only sweat a little, with sweat glands located primarily in their paw pads. They pant for heat relief only at very high temperatures. Their kidneys are so efficient they can survive on a diet of meat alone, with no additional water, and can even quench their thirst by drinking seawater.

Cats are carnivores and have difficulty digesting plants. About 20% of a cat's diet needs to be protein. They are dependent on a constant supply of the amino acid arginine and cannot produce taurine. They do eat grass occasionally. Since cats cannot fully close their lips around something to create suction, they lap with their tongues to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans and cannot taste sweetness. Their taste buds instead respond to bitter tastes, acids and amino acids.

Special Senses

Cats have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level humans require to see. Unlike some big wild cats, domestic cats have slit pupils. They see in color, but have limited ability to distinguish between red and green.

Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range of frequencies. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans. They do not use this ability to hear ultrasound for communication, but it aids in hunting since many rodents make ultrasonic calls. Cat hearing is extremely sensitive and is among the best of any mammal. Their movable ears amplify sounds and help them sense the direction from which the sound is coming.

Cats also have an excellent sense of smell. They are very sensitive to pheromones which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands.

To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable whiskers on their bodies, especially on their faces. Their whiskers are highly sensitive to touch and provide information on the width of gaps and the location of objects in the dark. They work by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents. They also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect the cat's eyes from damage.

A Day In The Life

Free ranging cats are active both day and night. A house cat's activity is quite flexible and varied, and often synchronizes with their human family. Cats allowed outdoors are known to establish territories from 17 to 69 acres in size.

Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, usually 13–14 hours per day. They dream often throughout the day.

Cats use many vocalizations for communication including purring, hissing, growling, snarling, trilling, grunting and many forms of meowing. Different body language, including position of ears and tail, relaxation of their body and kneading of paws, indicate their mood. No one knows how a cat purrs. Cats have no unique anatomical feature that is known for causing the sound.

Cats are known for their cleanliness, spending many hours licking their coats. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing spines which act like a hairbrush.

Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents. They use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until the animal comes close. Many present their prey to their human guardians. Some experts believe this is done because the cat is trying to teach its human to hunt, or is trying to feed their inept human.

Most cats have a fondness for perching in high places. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed location to hunt from and gives the cat a better observation point. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.

Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. Cats arch their backs, raise their fur, turn sideways and hiss to appear more impressive and threatening. Often, the ears are pointed down and back to avoid damage and to listen for any changes behind them. They may also vocalize loudly and bare their teeth to further intimidate their opponent. Fights usually consist of grappling, slapping and biting. Serious damage is rare, as the fights usually don't last long.

Prolific Breeders

Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may go into heat over and over during the course of a year. The mating season begins in spring and ends in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last around 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her and the victor wins the right to mate. Cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, and different kittens in the litter may have different fathers.

The gestation period for cats is about 66 days. The size of a litter is usually three to five kittens. Babies are weaned between six and seven weeks old, and teens normally reach sexual maturity between 5–10 months. Females can have two to three litters per year, so they can produce up to 150 kittens by the time they reach ten years old. They can be spayed or neutered as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females.

Feral Cats

Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in, or have reverted to, a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural environments. There are 25 to 60 million feral cats just in the United States. They usually live in colonies, occupying a specific territory with a source of food. A grass roots effort to humanely reduce the feral cat population is called 'trap-neuter-return'. Cats are trapped, neutered, immunized and then released. Volunteers continue to feed and care for the cats throughout their lives. An established colony helps to prevent other feral cats from moving into an area.

Animal Overpopulation Crisis

Each year, in the United States, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Around 4 million of these animals are euthanized because homes are unable to be found for them. It is a tragic end to these healthy young lives.

Overpopulation is a problem that results in thousands of animals being killed each month. There are many reasons for this; all are preventable. The answer to this huge problem is simple: reduce the number of animals coming into this world. Through the routine procedure of spaying and neutering dogs and cats, there would be fewer unwanted animals, thus reducing or eliminating the heartbreaking process of euthanizing innocent animals left in our overcrowded shelters.

One group of people cannot personally take the blame for this overpopulation epidemic since there are many contributors to the problem. The responsibility is shared by irresponsible guardians, pet shops, puppy mills and professional and "backyard" breeders. Just one litter of puppies or kittens can be responsible for reproducing thousands more in just a few years.


While there are many breeders and pet shops, the greatest cause of the overpopulation tragedy is individual caretakers who refuse or are afraid to get their companion spayed or neutered. Sometimes parents want their children to experience "the miracle of birth"; other times people let their non-spayed/neutered animals wander, and their companion animals end up mating with other companion animals. There are also people who are genuinely uncomfortable having their companions neutered, "taking away their masculinity," which often results in accidental mating. All of these factors add up to many innocent lives that need to find homes.


Another obvious contributor to the overpopulation problem are professional and "backyard" breeders. These people are contributors to a market driven by the same American ideals of buying brand name products because of the associations that go along with them; many purebred animals are bought for the same identification purposes. There is also a tendency for inbreeding in purebred animals because of certain desirable characteristics. This has led to problems, such as deafness, hip dysplasia and epilepsy.

Mixed-breed animals are not the only ones who end up in shelters. A surprising fact is that purebred dogs make up 20 percent to 25 percent of shelter populations. Sometimes a family that just wanted to breed one litter cannot find homes for all the puppies, or the pet store is unable to sell the animal. The bottom line is, each animal that is purchased from a pet store or breeder potentially takes up a home for an animal that could have been adopted from a shelter.


Puppy mills are facilities that mass breed dogs in almost assembly-line conditions, where dogs are considered nothing more than products. Puppy mills are able to survive because of the demand for purebred animals. The animals are usually kept in squalid conditions, with just enough subsistence to keep them alive until they can be sold at wholesale prices to pet stores. Many of these animals are prone to disease because of the horrid conditions they are raised in and the stress of being shipped over great distances at a very young age.


Spaying and neutering are important steps toward ending companion animal overpopulation. They are simple surgical procedures that are done on the reproductive organs of female and male animals. The procedure eliminates the ability of the animal to reproduce and, in the long term, can prevent many difficulties, such as tumors or bacterial infections that can occur in older animals.

Animals should never be purchased from puppy mills, backyard breeders and pet shops. Adopt - never shop.


Adopt animals from local animal care facilities, rescue groups and shelters instead of purchasing them from breeders or pet stores. 

Have your companions spayed or neutered. 

Educate your community, friends and family about companion-animal overpopulation. 

Don't Declaw

A cat's claws are used to capture prey, for climbing, and in self-defense. Claws are an integral part of a cat's life, but their use can also be a problem for cats' human cohabitants. Declawing, however, is a painful and permanently crippling procedure that should not be practiced. There are effective and humane alternatives to declawing that can reduce or eliminate clawing damage.


Cats claw to maintain proper condition of the nails, for fun and exercise, and to mark territory visually as well as with scent. They stretch by digging their claws into something and pulling back against their own clawhold. A cat's natural instinct to scratch serves both physical and psychological needs. Before domestication, cats satisfied these needs by clawing tree trunks. Domesticated cats can be trained to satisfy their desire to claw without damaging valuable property.


Declawing involves 10 separate, painful amputations. It is a serious surgery, not just a manicure. The British Veterinary Associations calls declawing an "unnecessary mutilation." Indeed, it is illegal in many parts of Europe.

Declawing a cat involves general anesthesia and amputation of the last joint of each toe, including the bones, not just the nail. Possible complications of this surgery include reaction to anesthetic, hemorrhage, bone chips which prevent healing, recurrent infections and damage to the radial nerve, pain, and possible abnormal regrowth of the nails. The nails may grow back inside the paw, causing pain but remaining invisible to the eye. Declawed cats need regular X-rays to monitor this problem. Declawing results in a gradual weakening of leg, shoulder, and back muscles, and, because of impaired balance, declawed cats have to relearn to walk much as would a person who lost his or her toes. Without claws, cats are virtually defenseless, and this often leads to neurosis and even skin and bladder problems. Without claws to mark their territory, even house-trained cats will often urinate and defecate outside the litter box in a desperate attempt to ward off intruders.

Most animal protection groups, as well as many veterinarians, have spoken out against declawing. Many vets refuse to perform the surgery, calling the operation cruel, and in most cases, unnecessary.

There are several misconceptions about declawing. It does not make cats more "mellow." Declawed cats may be morose, reclusive, and withdrawn, or they may be irritable, aggressive and unpredictable. Many people think declawing makes a cat safer around babies, but this is far from true, as the lack of claws turns many cats into biters. Declawed cats feel so insecure, lacking their first line of defense, that they tend to bite more often as a means of self-protection.

People who have their cats declawed simply do not understand how important claws are to a cat and do not know how else to deal with the problem. With a little effort and commitment to your cat's welfare, you can eliminate the excuse to declaw your cat and make him or her a better companion as well.


To train a kitten or to retrain an adult cat requires the following measures: 

Regular nail trimmings. When the cat is relaxed and unafraid, gently press on the toes until the claws extend. Use a pair of animal nail trimmers and cut only the tip of the nail, taking care not to damage the vein or quick. The nail "hook" is what tears up upholstery, so when it is removed, damage is greatly reduced.

Buy or build two or more scratching posts. Such posts must be sturdy, tall enough to allow the cat to completely stretch (3 feet or taller), and properly placed. A bark-covered log, a post covered with sisal, or a tightly woven burlap-covered post works well. Soft, fluffy, carpeted scratching posts don't work - they are one of the greatest causes of declawing because cats often don't like the posts, and frustrated human companions resort to surgery. If you use carpet, secure it to the posts with the rough backing on the outside; soft carpeting will not satisfy a cat's need to claw. Place one scratching post where the cat is already clawing, and another close to where he or she normally sleeps (cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up). Another option is the cardboard or sisal "scratching box," which lies flat on the floor. These are inexpensive and small enough to scatter around the house, allowing your cat easy access to an "approved" scratching spot at all times. They do wear out fairly quickly, however, and will need to be replaced every few months - otherwise, cats may get frustrated and revert back to using furniture.

Give your cat specific instructions as to where to claw and where not to claw. Place your cat on the new scratching post and move his or her paws, or pretend to scratch it yourself. This will scent the posts and encourage exploratory clawing. Make the post a "fun" place to be. Play games with your cat on and around the post and attach hanging strings, balls and/or bouncy wire toys to it. Sprinkle catnip on the post, too. (A once-a-week or so "refresher" application will keep your cat interested.) When kitty uses the post, reinforce this behavior with praise, but be careful not to startle or frighten him or her. When the cat claws furniture, discourage this behavior with a firm voice or other loud noise, but never with physical force. Lukewarm water from a squirt gun directed at the back of the animal is often successful. During the training period, you may need to cover upholstery with plastic or other protection (cats don't like the slippery feel and will quickly learn to stay away).

Another option is nail caps for cats. Soft, vinyl nail caps are applied to cats' newly trimmed nails. The nail caps allow cats to scratch naturally, without harming furniture. Each application lasts about four to six weeks.

Feral Cats

The topic of feral cat predation on wildlife, especially birds, has become a battleground of competing opinions on whether feral cats should be trapped, neutered and returned to their environment, or if they should be viewed as invasive species and eradicated. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife, except in certain instances of fragile populations in isolated or fragmented ecosystems.

Hundreds of news outlets reported on a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study in 2013 claiming “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually” in the U.S. The absurd estimates presented in the study of bird mortalities represented 28.5 to 75.5% of the estimated 4.7 billion landbirds in all of North America. If these figures were even remotely accurate, birds would have been wiped out in North America long ago. A careful examination of the mathematical model developed by the researches revealed one inflated input after another. Yet, this bad science continues to be quoted over and over again by the media and wildlife organizations.

Too often, very flawed science is used to wrongly blame cats for declining wildlife populations and to bolster the false case against Trap-Neuter-Return. The so-called “Wisconsin Study” is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood of these studies. It is not reliable scientific research. The Wisconsin Study is not even a real study—in fact, it is a proposal for a study that never actually took place. The Wisconsin Study’s “data” has never been peer-reviewed, and only parts of it have been selectively published.

The authors published several articles attempting to project the potential impact of free-ranging cats on the bird population in the state of Wisconsin. The authors themselves identify their estimates of cat predation on birds as guesses. When interviewed about the estimates of cat predation from the study, one of its authors, Dr. Stanley Temple, disavowed them, saying, “Those figures were from our proposal. They aren’t actual data; that was just our projection to show how bad it might be.”

As this false data circulates, people aren’t getting the truth about wildlife and cats. The American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other groups have carelessly wielded these flawed statistics when opposing Trap-Neuter-Return. Such high-profile sources have a responsibility to properly examine their sources and provide Americans with scientifically-supported information.

Worse, the data is circulated by unknowing media. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have repeatedly cited statistics attributed to the Wisconsin Study in the past—but their reporters and editors have apparently failed to investigate the accuracy of these numbers.

Bad science robs communities of real solutions—and costs cats their lives. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only effective approach for managing feral cat colonies. Sound policy decisions about animals’ best interests cannot be made based on unsound science.

Real science shows that removing feral cats creates a “vacuum effect”: Cats from neighboring areas move into the newly available space to take advantage of food and shelter. These cats soon begin to breed to capacity. Before long, just as many cats can be found in the area as were there before.

Scientific research has observed the vacuum effect across many species. Removing cats from an area is a futile effort—one that cannot succeed. Municipalities engaged in any type of catch and kill efforts are fighting a cruel, endless, losing battle against nature that is a gross waste of taxpayer dollars.

One of the few documented efforts to remove a population of cats by catch and kill occurred on a uninhabited (sub-Antarctic) island: Marion Island. It took 19 years of ruthless methods—methods impossible to recreate in areas inhabited by people, such as introducing disease and poisoning—to clear the island of cats. Over those 19 years, scientists noticed that when cats were cleared from a “preferred” area of the island, cats from another area took their place. In other words, even as scientists worked to kill the cats, they observed the vacuum effect.

Trap-Neuter-Return avoids the vacuum effect. Trap-Neuter-Return stabilizes the population, which then decreases over time. It also improves the cats’ health by ending the stresses associated with mating and pregnancy.

Trap-Neuter-Return Feral Cats

Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is recommended only for colonies of feral cats who can be returned to supervised sites where long-term care can be assured. Stray, domestic cats need to be re-socialized and placed in homes. Spaying and neutering colonies of cats: stabilizes the population at manageable levels, eliminates "annoying" behaviors associated with mating (fighting, yowling, and "spraying toms"), helps make the animals easier to deal with over the long term (re: trapping for future veterinary treatment), is more effective and less costly than repeated attempts at eradication is humane to the animals and fosters compassion in the community.

The community, the caretakers and the property owner where the cats reside, should organize and carry out this plan. Money may be available from an established organization or may have to be raised by voluntary contributions. Local governments should be approached and asked to contribute to the fund, as TNR will save them money over time. The initial cost may seem high but the long-term costs are less than those spent on repeated eradication attempts. The major expenses are for equipment, veterinary services, and food.


Identify all those who feed the cats and all feeding sites. Make a list of all the cats, their state of health, and whether females are pregnant, or feeding kittens. Identify the cats who are only occasional visitors or who are friendly, as these may be companion animals. All neighbors should be notified of your procedures before trapping begins to prevent them from thinking you will harm the cats. The location should be evaluated as to whether or not it is an appropriate environment in which to keep the colony. Buildings scheduled for demolition or areas too close to major highways may not be suitable. For the most part, the area where the cats are living is the best place to keep them. If relocation is necessary, find a suitable new location. However, relocation should be the last option. The planning group may be very creative in finding a solution. Euthanasia is only recommended for very sick cats who cannot be treated.


Make arrangements for kittens and cats that may be tame enough to be domesticated after veterinary treatment. Rescuers and colony caretakers should sterilize all cats and kittens prior to adoption. They should charge an adoption fee which will help recover part of the cost. Early-age sterilization can be performed on kittens eight weeks old or two pounds in weight. Obtain humane traps and transfer cages, and learn how to properly use them. Make arrangements for transport, overnight stay, and delivery to and collection from the surgery.


Don’t leave the cat in an unprotected trap and never leave the cat where she might be threatened by other animals, people, or weather. Immediately cover the trap with a towel or blanket when the cat is caught in order to calm her down. When one cat has been trapped, it can be moved to the transfer cage so that the trap can be used for a second cat. Do not trap in inclement weather, especially during heat waves - traumatized cats are very susceptible to heat stroke. The use of "rabies poles" and tranquilizers are discouraged. Tranquilized cats may leave the area before the tranquilizer takes effect and can get into situations that could endanger their lives, such as wandering onto busy streets. Do not trap lactating mothers, if possible. If, however, a lactating mother is trapped you need to make a decision on whether to have her spayed - she could be hard to retrap. If you keep her, find her kittens as soon as possible.


Discuss the plan with the veterinarian and a possible fee reduction for the whole colony. Confirm beforehand that the veterinarian and technicians are aware that these cats are feral and prepared to treat them. A squeeze-side cage is an option for the clinic to use. A moveable panel in this type of cage immobilizes the cat allowing her to be tranquilized before handling. It is much safer for the veterinarian to tranquilize the cat through the bars of the trap. To avoid the necessity of a second trapping, dissolvable sutures must be used. Males should be fostered overnight and females, if possible, should be kept for two to three nights before returning. All cats to be returned must be identified by clipping one quarter inch off the top of the left ear. If the ear is properly cauterized, this procedure is trouble-free. All cats should be treated for worms and earmites, inoculated with a three-year rabies vaccine and distemper vaccine, and given a long-term antibiotic injection. Remember to inform the vet. that the cats are to be returned to their colonies.

Taming & Domestication: Although some older feral cats can be domesticated, the best time to tame ferals is before they are eight weeks old. While it is possible to domesticate some older kittens and cats, if no homes are available and your local shelter is killing unwanted domestic kittens, a more humane and practical solution is to sterilize feral kittens from 12 weeks old, vaccinate, and return to colony.


When returning to the original site is not possible, relocate the cat to a different site, such as a farm, a riding stable, or even a back yard, as long as new caretakers are willing to take responsibility for consistent food and shelter. Relocating may take several weeks or months and must be undertaken with the utmost of care. “Dumping” of feral cats in rural areas is strongly discouraged as the cats will, in all probability, move off and be unable to a food source. They may starve to death. If you do not confine the cats properly for 2 to 3 weeks, they may not remain on the property. This can lead to a similar situation as mentioned above.


The long-term management of the colony should include arrangements for daily feeding, fresh water, and provision of insulated shelters as sleeping places with waterproof covers and straw. Dust bedding with flea powder to prevent infestations, and keep feeding areas clean and tidy.  It may take several months to bring a large colony under control and achieve stable groups of contented and healthy cats. Any new cats attaching themselves permanently to the colony should be trapped and sterilized. Many of these may be tame, domestic strays. These should be resocialized and placed in homes. Feral cats can be re-trapped a few years later for booster rabies vaccinations, health check-ups, teeth cleaning etc. At this time, they will be more trusting of their caretaker and can be tricked into cages and traps. A plan should be worked out with the veterinarian where mild illnesses can be treated in the colony with antibiotics placed in moist food, to avoid re-trapping.
Copyright © Alley Cat Rescue. All rights reserved.

Do Feral Cats Live Miserable Lives?

Research proves that feral cats do not suffer harsh lives, pose a risk to other cats, or threaten public health. Feral cats live full, healthy lives outdoors. Claims that feral cats “suffer” outdoors are based on isolated incidents and are not supported by scientific evidence. Research of feral cats in high-volume spay/neuter clinics spanning nearly a decade found the need to euthanize for debilitating conditions was less than 1%. Anecdotal reports by caregivers bolster these findings.

Feral cats are just as healthy as “pet” cats—studies show they have the same low rates of disease. Despite recent media reports, there hasn’t been a confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies transmission in more than 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rabies in cats is extremely rare; in 2010, less than 5% of all reported rabid animals cases were cats, according to statistics from the CDC. Rabies vaccination is part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) protocol, making successful rabies prevention programs even more effective.

FIV and FeLV are also extremely rare in feral cats. Major scientific studies of hundreds of feral cats found rates of these diseases to be just as low as companion animal cats.

Science shows feral cat colonies pose no disease risk to humans. Rumors about the spread of infectious disease by cats to humans is based on myth and misunderstanding, not science. Infectious diseases from cats can spread to humans only via direct contact, and that’s extremely unlikely among feral cats, who avoid humans. In people, incidences of these diseases often have other causes. Toxoplasmosis, for example, is almost always caused by consuming undercooked foods.

Trap-Neuter-Return makes feral cats even healthier. Trap-Neuter-Return ends the breeding cycle, as well as the strains of mating and pregnancy, which improves the cats’ overall health. Studies of cats cared for through TNR show they have healthy body weights and fat distribution. One long-term study of a TNR program showed 83% of cats had lived in the colony for more than six years, indicating a healthy lifespan comparable to companion animal cats.

Stop Blaming Feral Cats

While some wildlife groups may use media attention to speculate that cats are causing species loss, leading biologists, climate scientists, and environmental watchdogs all agree: endangered species’ fight for survival rests in our own hands.

Focusing on cats diverts attention from the far more dangerous impact of humans. Too many media stories sidestep these realities to focus on sensational issues like cats’ imagined impact on birds. But cats have been a natural part of the landscape for over 10,000 years—that has not changed. What has changed in that time is how we have re-shaped the environment to suit 21st century human needs—at a great cost to the other species that share our ecosystem. Our direct impact on our environment is without a doubt the number one cause of species loss.

Make no mistake—habitat loss is the most critical threat to birds. With this exponential human population growth comes massive use of natural resources and rampant development: industrial activity, logging, farming, suburbanization, mining, road building, and a host of other activities. The impact on species from habitat destruction, pollution, fragmentation, and modification is alarming. According to the World Watch Institute, “people have always modified natural landscapes in the course of finding food, obtaining shelter, and meeting other requirements of daily life. What makes present-day human alteration of habitat the number one problem for birds and other creatures is its unprecedented scale and intensity.”

Human activities are responsible for up to 1.2 billion bird deaths every year. Nearly 100 million birds die annually from collisions with windows; 80 million from collisions with automobiles; 70 million from exposure to pesticides. Millions of birds are intentionally killed by U.S. government-sponsored activities each year.

The human population continues to grow, threatening other species. Exponential population growth has left little land untouched by human development. In America alone, the population grew by 60 million people between 1990 and 2010, and experts predict we will add 23 million more people per decade in the next 30 years. That kind of growth—the equivalent of adding another California and another Texas to our already teeming population—is unprecedented in American history.

Killing cats will not save wildlife. Studies have shown cats to be mainly scavengers, not hunters, feeding mostly on garbage and scraps. When they do hunt, cats prefer rodents and other burrowing animals. Studies of samples from the diets of outdoor cats confirm that common mammals appear three times more often than birds. Additionally, scientists who study predation have shown in mathematical models that when cats, rats, and birds coexist, they find a balance. But when cats are removed, rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely.

Some wildlife organizations and media outlets continue to quote scientific studies that have been proven inaccurate. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife.

Although human civilization and domestic cats co-evolved side by side, the feral cat population was not created by humans. Cats have lived outdoors for a long time. In the thousands of years that cats have lived alongside people, indoor-only cats have only become common in the last 50 or 60 years—a negligible amount of time on an evolutionary scale. They are not new to the environment and they didn’t simply originate from lost pets or negligent animal guardians. Instead, they have a place in the natural landscape.

Do The Right Thing: Spay & Neuter

For every puppy or kitten born, a puppy or kitten in a shelter or in the care of a rescue group will not find a forever home. There might have been time to prevent those unwanted births, if communities and individuals had acted responsibly.

Each year, in the United States alone, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Because homes cannot be found for all of them, between 10 and 12 million of these animals will be euthanized - healthy, lovable animals, destroyed just because there are too many of them. The only way to solve the problem is to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals by neutering and spaying. Attitudes must change and we should all share information. We should educate, encourage and speak out, until neutering and spaying cats and dogs becomes the norm.

It is human nature to rationalize the bad decisions we make, but can there ever be a good reason not to spay or neuter? There are parents who allow their cat or dog to have a litter because they want their children to experience "the miracle of birth". By making this decision, those parents have failed to teach their children the value of life. There may be people who are otherwise good animal caretakers, but who are genuinely uncomfortable with neutering. They may believe that they are "taking away the masculinity" of a companion. Unless this guardian is always vigilant, accidental mating can happen. But the worst excuse not to spay or neuter is one of money. There are low-cost options available. Call your local animal shelter for a list of providers of this service in your area or go online. If you can afford any extras beyond food, shelter and medicine, you can afford to spay or neuter. If you are too poor to spay or neuter, you are too poor to have a companion animal. Being a caretaker to a companion animal is a life-long responsibility and commitment. No one should have a cat or a dog if they cannot afford veterinary care. The only good reason not to spay or neuter is when the surgery would put the animal’s life at risk.


Feral cat colonies exist almost everywhere and their numbers are growing. The problem of feral cats can be directly laid at the doorstep of irresponsible animal guardians that do not spay or neuter and allow their cats to wander. Many of these cats never come back, giving birth in the wild and forming the colonies that struggle for survival, while producing litter after litter of kittens. Communities should establish Trap Neuter Release Programs to humanely trap feral cats, take them to be neutered, and then release them to the original site of the colony. If found early enough, kittens can be socialized and placed in homes. But again, each of these kittens rob another kitten of a home, so make certain that those you rescue now are the last kittens born to the colony. Trap, Neuter and Release all remaining adults.


“Free kittens” signs mean that sweet innocents are at risk and that irresponsible animal guardians allowed their cat to breed. If you know anyone with a cat that is going to have kittens, encourage them to have the mother spayed as soon as the kittens are weaned and try to convince the person to find a no-kill shelter or rescue group willing to take the kittens. Let the person know that offering any animal for “free” invites disaster. There are people who are on the lookout for free food for "pet" snakes. And there are the awful "bunchers", who take free animals and sell them to laboratories for horrific experiments. Even if the animal is taken to be a companion, people often do not value something that costs them nothing. If no rescue group can take the kittens, it would be better to advertise them at a reasonable price, and do the best possible job of screening anyone wanting to adopt them. You can donate the money to a local animal shelter or charity.


Knowledge is the beginning of change. Share with others what you learn about responsible and humane animal guardianship. You can save lives by helping to educate your community, friends and family about companion animal issues.

Feral Cats Are An Important Part Of The Environment

While some wildlife organizations continue to claim that feral cats threaten wildlife species, they fail to take into account that cats are a part of our natural landscape. Science shows that attempts to remove cats could mean dire consequences for the rest of the ecosystem.

There have been feral cats since the dawn of civilization—and that is unlikely ever to change. Cats continue to be a natural part of our environment. They began their unique relationship with humans 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, and followed Europeans to the Americas. But it wasn’t until 60 years ago, with the growing availability of canned pet foods, spay/neuter techniques, and commercial cat litters, that keeping cats indoors was even considered possible—or desirable.

Cats play a complex role in local ecosystems; removing them is a major risk. Maintaining ecological balance is much more complicated than predator vs. prey. Although opponents of Trap-Neuter-Return claim that removing cats would “save” other species, this has never borne out in the instances where cats have been removed. These extermination programs result in the cruel, extreme, and prolonged targeting of cats.

A cat eradication effort on Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean found that killing all the cats resulted in a spike in the rat and mouse population, which then preyed on the bird population. Another cat eradication effort on Macquarie Island in the Pacific Ocean saw the rabbit population spike wildly once the cats were gone. Without cats to keep the rabbits in check, local vegetation was devastated by a rabbit feeding frenzy, and other animal species were then threatened by the loss of food and habitat.

Killing cats will not save wildlife. Studies have shown cats to be mainly scavengers, not hunters, feeding mostly on garbage and scraps. When they do hunt, cats prefer rodents and other burrowing animals. Studies of samples from the diets of outdoor cats confirm that common mammals appear three times more often than birds. Additionally, scientists who study predation have shown in mathematical models that when cats, rats, and birds coexist, they find a balance. But when cats are removed, rat populations soar and wipe out the birds completely.

Some wildlife organizations and media outlets continue to quote scientific studies that have been proven inaccurate. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife.

Although human civilization and domestic cats co-evolved side by side, the feral cat population was not created by humans. Cats have lived outdoors for a long time. In the thousands of years that cats have lived alongside people, indoor-only cats have only become common in the last 50 or 60 years—a negligible amount of time on an evolutionary scale. They are not new to the environment and they didn’t simply originate from lost companion animals or negligent animal guardians. Instead, they have a place in the natural landscape.

Independence Day & Animals

Many companion animal guardians will celebrate July 4th with barbeques, pool parties and fireworks, but they may not realize these seemingly harmless traditions can have catastrophic consequences for their four-legged family members. Nearly one-in-five lost companion animals first go missing after being scared by the sound of fireworks, thunderstorms or other loud noises.

Losing your companion animal is heartbreaking, but there are other dangers lurking in your own backyard that might not cross your mind as you celebrate this 4th of July. It’s critical that animal guardians consider their animals’ well-being during holiday celebrations, and when enjoying the outdoors all season long.

Below are the top five tips animal guardians need to know to safely enjoy the dog (and cat) days of summer:

Safe Travels

Traveling can be highly stressful for our animals. If you’re planning a road trip, prep your companion in advance by taking short rides in the car and getting them used to riding in a crate or car harness. Animal guardians should never leave their animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Parked cars, even with windows open, become very hot in a short amount of time and could lead to heatstroke or death.

Keep Cool

Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of water when the weather is is hot. Always make sure your companion animal has a shady place to escape the sun and don't let your dog linger outdoors, especially on hot asphalt. Being so close to the ground, your dog's body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can get burned.

Watch What They Eat

Summertime can be perfect for backyard parties, but the food and drinks should be served only to people, not companion animals. Keep alcoholic beverages away from animals, and remember that any change of diet – even just treating them to a bite of your festive food – may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments. Make sure to avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol, all of which are toxic to companion animals.

Beware of “High-Rise Syndrome”

During warmer months, many animal hospitals and veterinarians across the country see an increase in injured animals as a result of “High-Rise Syndrome,” which is when animals fall or jump out of windows and are seriously or fatally injured. Keep all unscreened windows in your home closed and make sure screens are tightly secured.

Love the Leash

Warm weather can inspire longer walks, and while this is exciting for both dog and human, it’s important that dogs are always kept on leash – with collars and up-to-date ID tags and microchips – to protect them from getting loose and injuring themselves or others.

Pet Shops

"Pet shops" use the natural appeal of puppies, kittens and other animals to sell them at an inflated price, often several hundred dollars for "purebred" animals.

The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, between 350,000 and 500,000 a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals.

Other common problems in the pet shop industry include selling sick and injured animals to the public, failing to provide proper veterinary care, unsanitary conditions and inhumane methods of killing sick and unwanted animals.

You can help bring about changes in local pet stores, if you know what conditions to look for and what steps to take.


Healthy young animals are usually energetic and shiny-coated. Look for signs of ill health, such as listlessness, diarrhea, emaciation, dull coats, runny eyes and dry noses. Sick animals should never be housed with healthy ones.

Check the general sanitation conditions; notice signs of cockroach infestation, rodent droppings on the floor and rusty or dirty cages.

Also look for algae or scum in water bottles, empty water containers, or animals having difficulty drinking from them.

Dogs and cats must have water (it can be in a bottle), and there must be some sort of solid flooring (if a tray is used, it must be flat on the floor). There should be no more than one large dog in a single cage. Look for signs of distemper and parvovirus: runny stool and clogged, dry noses. Cats should have an elevated surface (above the litter area) to rest upon. Water must be in a clean water dish rather than in a bottle. Also, watch for signs of upper respiratory disease (eyes covered with inner membrane, runny eyes and nose and sneezing).

Rabbits should have a water bottle, not a dish. They should not be listless. If an animal is sick, you may notice other animals in the cage walking over him/her. Watch for runny noses and excessive sneezing.

Birds must have a properly sized perch (birds' feet should go three quarters of the way around the perch). Check for others beating up on one - especially common in zebra finches (you may see feathers missing from head, back, etc.). A bird should not be resting on the bottom of the cage (a sign of illness or of having been thrown off the perch by others). Cages should not be overcrowded.

Check fish tanks for overcrowding. Generally, an inch-long tropical fish requires a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface to breathe comfortably; a two-inch fish needs at least 24 square inches of surface area, and so on. Look for dead fishes in aquariums.


Find out who in your town, county or state enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Report abuses to them. Often, these people work for local humane societies or animal shelters. Once you have located the proper law enforcement officials, provide them with a concise, factual, written statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. Try to get short, written statements from witnesses. Statements should be notarized. Ask sympathetic veterinarians to visit the pet store and write an "expert statement" as to the conditions and health of the animals.

If you have been sold a sick or injured animal, go to your local courthouse and fill out a small claims form (no attorney needed). When you file the form, you will be given a court date. At the hearing, present all your veterinary and related bills. (Be sure to get a statement from your vet.) Though it's difficult to put a monetary value on your animal's health or life, this simple action can bother a pet store owner enough to prevent him or her from being irresponsible and inhumane in the future. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If the store is in a shopping mall, complain to the mall manager (and ask all of your friends and neighbors to do the same). Ask the mall management not to renew the store's lease.

Find out if a division of your county or state health department licenses pet shops and, if so, request that they conduct an inspection.

Even if the health department does not specifically license pet shops, it should still inspect for dirty conditions that may pose a health risk to the public. If the pet store sells wild or exotic animals, it is required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and violations should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in your state (usually in your state capital). To locate your state office, look in the federal government section of the phone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Educate the public: Write letters to the editor, distribute leaflets outside the store, organize a demonstration, etc. Department stores that have a pet department may be especially susceptible to a boycott, since the revenue from the pet department may not constitute a large portion of overall profit.

If all else fails, contact local television and radio stations and newspapers and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping.

Above all, don't patronize pet stores. You can purchase supplies for companion animals from "pet" supply stores or catalogs which carry full product lines but don't treat living beings as merchandise.

Animal Shelters

Animal shelters, like the animals they house, vary greatly by size, purpose, capacity, and humaneness. They may be run by the government, by a local humane society, by private individuals, or by a combination of these. Some are funded by donations alone, while others receive tax money. Sometimes tax money comes with a stipulation that some animals must be turned over to experimenters. Every effort should be made to reverse such a policy, which is known as "pound seizure."

Some shelters take in dogs only, but most take in dogs and cats. Some can properly handle birds and wild animals. Usually, however, names of area naturalists or wildlife rehabilitators are kept on hand for referral when a wildlife emergency arises, and if a wildlife facility is nearby, any incoming wildlife should be transferred to it.

Because of severe space limitations, most shelters kill animals who are old, seriously ill, or unfriendly, or who remain unclaimed or unadopted after a limited number of days.


The ideal shelter is a haven for lost, injured, abused or unwanted animals. It receives adequate funding from the county or city it serves, and no animal from it is ever knowingly turned over to a research laboratory, guard dog company or unqualified or cruel guardian.

The ideal facility also has a caring, knowledgeable staff, cruelty investigators, spacious dog runs (indoor-outdoor, if possible), a large and sunny cat room, a spay/neuter program, an adoption pre-check and follow-up program and a comprehensive humane education program. The staff is supplemented by an active volunteer auxiliary. There are sick wards and rooms for isolating newcomers.

The cat room has windowsills and various nooks or perches where cats can lounge or sleep. Cats are allowed to roam this room freely. They won't fight because they know that no one of them "owns" this territory and each adult has been spayed or neutered before being introduced into the room. There are some cages here for cats who must be confined for observation or because they feel more secure in a cage when they are first brought into the room.

The public is made to feel very welcome. There is a quiet room where people can be alone with an animal they are considering adopting.

Through various methods of publicity, the public is made aware of the animals available for adoption at the shelter. Sometimes, as a public service, local newspapers will publish a list or notice of animals available for adoption, along with the hours the shelter is open to the public. They may also print a photo of one of the animals, which is a good way to attract attention. Local radio and television stations may also publicize the shelter as a public service. Notices and photos can be posted in animal hospitals, stores, online, etc.

The shelter is open for redemption and adoption of animals during hours convenient for working people. It is open at least several evenings a week and for at least several hours each weekend. 

When animals must be killed it is done with a painless injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by gentle, caring staff.

Remember, these are the programs and facilities included in the ideal shelter. With the help of volunteers, good shelters can become ideal.


"No-kill" shelters do not euthanize animals except under extreme circumstances. Because of this they must limit the number of animals they accept. Some no-kill shelters take in only highly attractive, young, or purebred animals, or only animals from the police stations of designated municipalities. Many direct people with old or sick animals to another facility that must kill animals to make room for new arrivals. Each time such a referral is made, there is a greater chance that people will instead dump the animal.

At some no-kill shelters, "unplaceable" animals end up living in cages for years. They can become withdrawn, severely depressed, and "unhousebroken" and can acquire anti-social behaviors that further decrease their chances of being adopted. Well-meaning people who take on the huge physical and financial responsibilities of a no-kill shelter can find themselves overwhelmed very quickly, and too often the animals suffer from lack of individual care and attention. Some no-kill shelters have been shut down by humane officials after gradual neglect turned into blatant cruelty.


Many shelters are in serious need of reform. Citizen involvement is essential if progress is to be made. You can be successful by organizing friends, neighbors, and other concerned individuals.

At all times, maintain a positive attitude. For each problem you encounter, offer a solution, along with assistance in implementing your suggestions. Focus on specific problems and don't expect to get everything you ask for all at once.

Common problems include cruel killing methods; dirty conditions; lack of veterinary care; lack of adequate food and water; poor record-keeping resulting in animals being frequently "accidentally" destroyed; lack of spay/neuter requirements or programs; callous, untrained, or unthinking staff; inadequate screening procedures for adoption applicants; and pound seizure.

To effectively document abuses, compile written statements of specific incidents and observations. Record all pertinent information, i.e., the date, time, persons involved, weather conditions, etc. Have as many people as possible document their experiences. Be sure to keep copies of all your documents and correspondence.

After you have collected concrete evidence showing poor conditions at the shelter, enlist other people to work with you on the case. Not only will you need help with your campaign, but public officials tend to be more receptive to groups than to individuals. You might want to run an advertisement in the local newspaper asking people who have complaints about the shelter to write to you. In your advertisement, be careful not to target any individual, such as the shelter director.

Organize a meeting with other interested people and set your goals. Address the most serious problems first. Group members should be familiar with your state's anti-cruelty statutes, local animal ordinances, and the specifics of animal behavior and care. Your efforts will be more productive if each member has clearly defined responsibilities.

Depending on the problems you have observed, you may want to first meet with the shelter director and discuss how you might help improve the facility. If this approach fails or is not feasible, you should request a hearing before the agency that oversees the shelter: the city council, board of county commissioners, or the humane society's board of directors. Attend the hearing with group members and as many other supporters as possible. Present your documentation in an organized way, and be specific. To maintain a high profile in county politics, have several of your group's members regularly attend these public meetings. This is essential in monitoring progress, and in showing officials that your group is serious about reaching its goals.

Launch letter-writing campaigns to local officials and newspapers. Be sure to write letters of thanks when improvements are made. Develop media contacts so that the entire community will be kept updated. Local newspaper and TV reporters who are sympathetic to your concerns can be valuable allies.

If there is an upcoming election, you may want to meet with one or more candidates. Schedule your meetings early in the race and keep them short and concise.

Legal Protections For Animals

Domestic animals suffer cruelty and abuse all too frequently. Often unreported, animal cruelty has many causes, ranging from ignorance to outright viciousness.

Public education is the primary means of preventing animal abuse. But when education fails, the legal process can be an effective tool. Many times the act of prosecuting an abusive individual will motivate them to adhere to humane principles they have previously ignored. Before this can be accomplished, however, animal advocates need to know what acts are illegal under current laws.


Three types of laws cover the treatment of domestic animals: city or county ordinances, state statutes, and federal statutes. State and federal statutes (also referred to as "code") are often implemented by regulations that spell out minimum standards of animal care and treatment under the law. Local ordinances usually address animal control services such as leash laws, handling of dangerous animals, treatment of stray animals, and rabies and other disease control. Licensing of companion animals as well as the setting of limits on the number and type of animals that may be kept by individuals are the authority of city or county animal control agencies. In smaller municipalities, the animal control function may be delegated to a local humane society. Animal cruelty and pet shops, if covered, usually fall under state statutes. Regulation of companion animal breeding may be addressed by either local ordinance or state law or both.


Since Massachusetts passed the first animal cruelty law in 1835, every state has passed laws to protect animals from abuse. Every state also has its own humane groups and organizations, both local and national in scope, which help propose new and amended legislation to improve existing laws. As might be expected, each state also varies in the wording of those laws and the extent to which they protect animals from harm. All states now have laws with felony provisions for some form of cruelty. 

Fines can range from $100 (a mere slap on the wrist) all the way up to $20,000. Imprisonment can range from none to five years. About a third of the states have no other penalties, while some can order offenders to receive psychological counseling, forfeit the animal, and/or pay for the care of the animal. Some states increase penalties for repeated offenses.

Unfortunately, many states exempt farm animals to varying degrees from their cruelty statutes. Other states, however, have passed laws that regulate the transportation and handling of animals used for food.

To obtain a copy of the laws in your state, contact your nearest humane society or SPCA, animal control agency, law enforcement office (sheriff or police), or your local librarian for assistance. If these agencies in your area can only offer limited or no help, try your District Attorney, State Attorney, or a comparable law enforcement official in your area.


Federal laws intended to protect domestic animals include the Humane Slaughter Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Horse Protection Act, and the Animal Welfare Act.

The Humane Slaughter Act, passed in 1958, requires packing companies that sell meat to the federal government to use "humane slaughter methods". The Act defines these methods as those which render an animal insensible to pain by mechanical, electrical, chemical or other means. These methods must be utilized rapidly and effectively before the animal is hoisted, shackled, thrown, cast or cut. The Act exempts kosher killing methods, where the animal is slaughtered while conscious for religious reasons. Federal law, however, does not include poultry, so it is up to each state to cover chickens and turkeys under state statute.

In 1978, the Humane Slaughter Act was amended to include the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which requires that all livestock slaughtered for meat imported into the United States be "humanely" slaughtered. This means foreign packers importing to the U.S. must meet the same guidelines required of U.S. packers. This Act also empowered federal meat inspectors to shut down U.S. slaughtering lines immediately if any cruelty is observed. Slaughtering can only resume after the observed deficiencies are corrected.

Most facilities in the United States are covered by the Humane Slaughter Act, although some packing houses (which don't participate in the federal meat inspection program) are subject only to state legislation. Although laws exist in some states to protect animals in these facilities, more legislation is needed.

The Horse Protection Act of 1970 bans the use of devices or methods known as "soring" to affect the gait of horses such as the Tennessee Walking Horse. The forefeet of these horses are deliberately made sore by blistering agents, burns, cuts, lacerations and chains to produce an elongated smooth running walk that is considered desirable in the showing of the breed. In 1976 the law was strengthened by an amendment that made soring a felony offense punishable by imprisonment up to three years and fines up to $5,000. The amendment also broadened the definition of "sore" by including any horse that demonstrated unusual sensitivity in both forelegs and expanded protection to other horses often drugged to hide the effects of soring while performing. Many states have also passed legislation against similar cruel acts to horses.

Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966, and amended it in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, and 1991. Originally called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, the legislation now extends protection to certain warm-blooded animals maintained by animal dealers, transporters, exhibitors and research facilities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the AWA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The AWA mandates minimum standards of care with regard to housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary services and protections from extreme weather. The 1985 amendment also requires that dogs be exercised and that facilities provide for the psychological well-being of primates.

The AWA protects dogs, cats, non-human primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, farm animals used in research or exhibition, and horses used in nonagricultural research. The regulations do not extend to the majority of research animals - rats, mice, fish, and birds. Animal protection organizations continue to work for inclusion of these animals within AWA guidelines.

Animal dealers, animal transporters, animal exhibitors and research facilities must all comply with the licensing and regulatory requirements of the AWA. The original Laboratory Animal Welfare Act actually came about as a result of animal dealers who engaged in cruel and illegal activities. Class A dealers operate as breeding services for research animals, but Class B dealers sell animals received from "random sources." Those sources include auctions, pounds, "Free to Good Home" ads and "pet theft". APHIS agents conduct annual, unannounced inspections of animal dealer facilities in an effort to ensure the animals are properly housed and fed. They also look for complete documentation as to the source and destination of the animals. However, pet theft, abuse and inhumane conditions continue to dominate the animal market. Eliminating Class B dealers altogether remains a major goal of the animal movement. The AWA does not currently classify retail pet stores, hobby breeders, public pounds, private shelters or boarding kennels as animal dealers.

Animal exhibitors operate animal acts, carnivals, circuses, public zoos, "roadside zoos" and marine mammal displays. Rodeos, animal preserves, hunting events and private collections of animals are not regulated by the AWA. Most of the animals exhibited are species not native to the United States, but exhibited animals may also include domestic farm animals and wild animals native to this country. Licensed exhibitors under the AWA either obtain or dispose of animals in commerce or exhibit them for compensation. Since these regulated businesses make money from the display of their animals, the public can play a major role in enforcing the law by reporting violations to APHIS.

Research facilities include institutions using regulated animals for research, diagnostic laboratory tests, quality control testing and college instruction. The AWA covers both private and state-owned facilities, as well as drug firms and diagnostic laboratories. Federal facilities, school laboratories, agricultural research stations and institutions using only biologic (dead) specimens or non-regulated animals are exempt from the law.

Experimentation on animals continues to generate large amounts of money for universities and pharmaceutical companies, and much of the public continues to support it out of fear of preventing the next "cure." Minimal regulations are therefore imposed on animal research. Although the AWA requires that the pain inflicted on laboratory animals be curbed by medication, no relief need be given if the experiment itself involves pain monitoring. Although the AWA theoretically forbids the unnecessary duplication of a specific experiment using regulated animals, it does not permit APHIS to interfere with research procedures. In short, the regulation of laboratory animals mandates only basic care, not any type of humane treatment.

The regulations that implement the most recent amendment to the AWA are also disturbing, particularly with regard to laboratory animals. Although Congress required the Secretary of Agriculture to draft comprehensive standards to define such terms as "humane" and "primate psychological well-being," he did not. Instead, the Secretary drafted regulations that allowed individual research facilities to document their own definitions of these terms. As a result, research facilities do not have to answer to any authority interested in the care of animals.


Local and state laws are enforced by police departments. In some states agents of a local humane society have the authority to issue citations under the animal cruelty statute.

The federal laws are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA inspectors are stationed at federal slaughterhouses to check for compliance with the Humane Slaughter Act and Federal Meat Inspection Act. Unfortunately, very few violations are cited and investigations have revealed that U.S. humane slaughter laws are being routinely ignored as meat plants grow larger. Former USDA employees report that live cattle are routinely skinned, squealing pigs immersed in scalding water, and still-conscious animals abused in other ways to keep production lines moving quickly.

The USDA is also responsible for administering the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Care division of APHIS enforces the AWA through licensing commercial animal breeders, dealers, brokers, transportation companies, exhibitors and research facilities. The agency also searches for unlicensed individuals or facilities and investigates complaints from the public. APHIS inspectors are required to make unannounced inspections at least once annually. If an inspection reveals deficiencies in meeting the AWA standards and regulations, the inspector instructs the facility to correct the problems within a given time frame. Uncorrected deficiencies are documented and possible legal action is considered. Legal actions include Official Notices of Warning or agency stipulation letters that set civil penalties for infractions. Civil penalties include cease-and-desist orders, fines and license suspensions or revocations.

Although the AWA requires that inspections be conducted annually, not all facilities are reviewed that frequently. Only approximately 70 field inspectors are employed by APHIS to perform compliance inspections at more than 10,000 regulated sites per year. This number includes 4,200 dealer, 2,200 research, 2,700 exhibitor and 1,300 carrier sites.

Many deficiencies are noted among these facilities each year but less than 1% are cited for violations, and an even smaller number have their license suspended or revoked.


For farm animals and any inhumane treatment such as lack of food, water, shelter or necessary medical attention, report directly to your local humane organization or animal control agency. In areas not served by such an agency, contact the local law enforcement office and the nearest humane agency that may be able to offer assistance.

If you observe a violation of a county or city ordinance (dog/cat licensing, leash law, animal bite, etc.), contact the appropriate animal control agency. In some areas that function may be under the jurisdiction of the humane society, animal control, dog warden, police department or even the health department.

When reporting a complaint, obtain all available information concerning the alleged cruelty, such as the actual street address with directions to the site, and names if known. Law enforcement officials are more cooperative when you can offer solid evidence such as photographs, video and statements from witnesses with their name, address, telephone number and description of what they witnessed.

What to Do About AWA Violations:

The Animal Welfare Act is administered by the Animal Care division of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The main area where APHIS receives information from the public is in the care and treatment of animals used in entertainment. If you witness an animal at an exhibition (roadside zoo, circus, carnival, marine mammal show, zoological park, etc.) with inadequate food, water, space, or veterinary care, report the incident to APHIS. You can call or write a letter giving details of the incident, and the agency will send an investigator to the site. Contact the office nearest to you.

Eastern Region
(Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Wisconsin)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive, Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210

Central Region
(Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
P.O. Box 915004 (letters)
501 Felix St, Bldg. #11 (packages)
Fort Worth, TX 76115-9104

Western Region
(Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming)
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care
9580 Micron Ave. Suite J
Sacramento, CA 95827-2623

APHIS's website,, includes information about routine and complaint inspections of all individuals and facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act.

APHIS has the authority to take custody of animals whose safety is in imminent danger. Even if agents feel that the situation does not merit such serious action, they will set deadlines for correcting the mistreatment. If the exhibitor does not improve conditions by the deadline, penalties can be assessed and licenses revoked. Given the alarming number of animals displayed for profit, citizens must participate in enforcing the laws for abusers to be disciplined.

Remember that animals and facilities not covered under the AWA may be covered by your state anti-cruelty or wildlife statutes; in many cases, the animals may be covered by both. Your local librarian, or law library if you have access to one, can help you obtain information about or copies of federal or state laws.

Fight Animal Cruelty

You've seen an animal being abused and want to do something to stop it, but you don't know what to do. Here are a few steps to help you with a cruelty investigation.

First, find out who in your town, county, or state investigates and enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Often, these people work for local humane societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (SPCAs), or taxpayer-funded animal shelters.

If you cannot locate the proper person, call or visit your local sheriff's office or police department to ask for help in enforcing the law. Before doing so, check the county and state law books in your local library. The state statute and county code will tell you exactly what your laws prohibit a person from doing to an animal. You can look up the laws easily in the index of the books and should make a photocopy to take with you. In most states, causing an animal "unnecessary suffering" is illegal, as is beating an animal, depriving him or her of food, and so on.

Once you have located the proper law enforcement officer, provide him/her with a concise, written, factual statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. If you can, photograph the situation and date your photographs. You should also try to get short, factual, written statements from other witnesses.

Always keep a record of whom you contact, the date of the contacts, and the content and outcome of your discussions with each of them. Never pass on a letter or document without making a copy for your file. Make it crystal clear that you wish to pursue this case and are willing to lend your assistance, as required.

If you are not able to get satisfaction from the enforcement officers, present your documented case to their supervisors, and, if necessary, to your local government officials, such as the county commissioner, and ask them to act. If you have witnessed the cruel act yourself, you can go to your local police commissioner and ask to swear out a warrant to summon the accused person to court. Sometimes expert witnesses may be necessary to the case. A veterinarian, for example, can sign a statement that it is his/her "expert opinion" that a dog suffers if swung by a chain, deprived of food, etc. Expert opinions often make or break a case, so if you know a sympathetic veterinarian, you may wish to seek his/her assistance and tell the officer you have expert support.

By keeping a factual, well documented, step-by-step record of the case, if all else fails, you can always visit or call your local newspapers or television stations and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act, or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping. Other people who have seen similar acts may then be encouraged to step forward.

Here are some pointers on problems to look for in various types of facilities, what laws apply, and who is responsible for inspecting each type of facility.


What to Look For: Are the animals in good health? Can people get to close to the animals? What form of population control is used? What happens to "surplus animals"?

What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes. 

Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement. 

Exhibitors and Traveling Animal Shows

What to Look For: Physical condition; abnormal stereotypic behavior; unnecessary suffering; travel accommodations.

What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; commercial laws; zoning regulations.

Who Inspects: USAD/APHIS; local law enforcement.

Dog Dealers, Wildlife Dealers and Auctions

What to Look For: Physical condition; overcrowding; selling endangered species without the required permit.

What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act; state anti-cruelty statutes; Endangered Species Act (if selling endangered species.)

Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS; local law enforcement; US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Animal Shelters

What to Look For: Conditions at shelter; method of euthanasia; adequate veterinary care; employee reliability and attitude.

What Laws Apply: State anti-cruelty statutes; local ordinances.

Who Inspects: County and state officials.

Pet Stores

What to Look For: Sanitation; physical health; overcrowding; selling endangered species. 

What Laws Apply: Animal Welfare Act (if selling wild animals); state anti-cruelty statutes; health regulations.

Who Inspects: USDA/APHIS (if selling wild animals); local law enforcement; state health department; state department of environment.

Cosmetic Surgery For Dogs & Cats


Tails are usually docked on 2-10 day old puppies, without either general or local anesthesia. If the procedure is done by a veterinarian, the tail is clamped a short distance from the body, and the portion of the tail outside the clamp is cut or torn away. Many breeders dock their pups themselves using a method that has been proven to be far more painful - "banding," or tying off the tail. This stops the blood supply, which results in dry gangrene. The dead portion of the tail usually falls off about three days later. This can be likened to slamming your finger in a car door - and leaving it there.

Two cases involving home tail docking were recently reported by the Michigan Humane Society. One woman was tried and found guilty of cruelty for allowing rubber bands to become embedded in the tails of four puppies. In a similar abuse case, a four-week-old Rottweiler mix puppy's tail had been improperly rubber banded. His infected tail had to be amputated.

Puppies undergoing any method of tail-docking squeal and cry, yet advocates assert that the newborn's nervous system is unable to feel the pain. They point out that puppies immediately crawl to their mothers to nurse. But don't all hurt or frightened children immediately cry for their mommy? Moreover, research indicates that suckling causes the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers, which may be a more realistic way to view the puppies' desire to nurse. Docking advocates ignore the fact that a newborn puppy simply is not capable of a wide range of responses. It is very difficult to accurately assess the degree of pain a newborn is experiencing. Just because a puppy is not actively vocalizing does not mean she isn't feeling any pain.

The pro-docking lobby claims that since puppies are less developed at birth (altricial) than, say, fawns or colts - which stand, walk and run within a very short time after birth (precocial) - their nervous systems are less sensitive, therefore tail docking is not painful. However, it is well documented in the human medical literature that newborn humans, who are also altricial, do feel pain - and neonatal pain management is taken seriously. "Clinicians believe that infants can experience pain much like adults, that [hospitalized] infants are exposed daily to painful procedures, and that pain protection should be provided, even very prematurely born infants respond to pain," states one report from the Department of Pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Proponents of tail docking claim that their favorite breeds "often" have their tails damaged while hunting. No statistics or percentages of dogs so damaged are given. However, explicit photos of such injuries are prominently displayed in their literature and web sites. This vague potential risk for future tail injury theoretically justifies docking the tail of every single puppy of traditionally docked breeds. It does not matter whether any particular puppy will ever be used for hunting or any other activities that carry a significant risk of tail injury. One study of 12,000 canine cases over seven years found only 47 cases of tail injuries from any cause, or about 0.003% of dogs seen at that hospital. Another survey reviewed 2,000 canine emergency cases, and turned up only three tail injuries - all of them complications from docking.

One certainly wonders about the validity of the "tail injury" argument, when sporting breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Irish, English and Gordon Setters, Beagles, Foxhounds, and Pointers do not have their tails docked, while Vislas, Weimeraners, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Springer, Brittany and Cocker Spaniels do. Spaniels have long, heavy, furry ears that appear more hazardous in thorny, brushy terrain or water than a long tail. Spaniels are also notorious for severe, chronic ear infections. Does it make any sense that they are allowed to keep their pendulous ears, but not their tails?

The tail injury argument also doesn't explain why Rottweilers, Dobermans, Poodles, Schnauzers and Old English Sheepdogs (as well as Australian Shepherds unfortunate enough to be born with tails instead of without), routinely have their tails docked. These working and non-sporting breeds aren't running around in the brush and woods. Old English and Aussie breeders might offer that a tail is a liability around livestock. But why isn't this so, then, for Border Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Great Pyrenees, or other herding breeds? The argument seems very thin when examined logically.


Breeds whose ears are naturally floppy, like Great Danes, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Schnauzers, and Manchester Terriers, have traditionally had their ears surgically cropped to stand up straight. This custom has existed in some breeds for hundreds of years. Initially, some of these breeds, such as Bull Terriers, were fighting dogs, and their ears were cut to reduce or eliminate an easy target. Since dogfighting is illegal in the U.S. today, this rationale is no longer applicable.

Ears are cropped at 8-10 weeks of age. The puppy is put under general anesthesia, the ears are cut, and the sore ears are stiffly taped in position to make them stand up straight. They will be taped and re-taped for weeks to months. Postoperative pain medication is not routinely given, even though the ears have an extensive blood and nerve supply. Even after all the torment, some dogs end up with floppy, bent, scarred, wrinkled, twisted, or otherwise disfigured ears. There is no reason to perform this painful, mutilating procedure, other than for looks (or more specifically, to conform with American Kennel Club (AKC) or breed club standards). There is no health benefit to the dog. Contrary to pro-cropping advocates' claims, there is no scientific evidence that cropping has any effect on the incidence of ear infections.

Many dog show judges now allow "natural" (uncropped, undocked) dogs of traditionally cropped and docked breeds in their classes, and sometimes even reward them with blue ribbons. Many breed standards accept either cropped or uncropped ears. In 1998, an uncropped Boxer won every show leading to his championship, and went on to claim an AKC Best in Show award. Animal advocates have for years pleaded with the AKC and similar organizations to make cropping optional in the more rigid breed standards. However, AKC's reaction was in the opposite direction - it amended the Boxer standard to specify that deviations from the "ideal" (cropped and docked) appearance must be penalized in the show ring.

AKC, breeders, and breed clubs do not want to see a resolution passed in San Francisco that might impinge on their demands for specific alterations of appearance in certain breeds. Cropping advocates theorize that their breeds will become unpopular and wither away, because no one will want dogs that do not conform to the standard. However, a recent article in Dog World speculated that people who previously avoided some of these breeds due to cropping requirements will now be more interested in them as companions. The appearance of many breeds has changed and evolved over time, including the Labrador Retriever - the most popular dog breed in the nation despite its "new look." The historic tradition of cropping and docking should be made as obsolete as the equally historic tradition of slavery.


While cosmetic tail docking and ear cropping are clearly of no benefit to the dog, the issues become a little fuzzier when it comes to debarking. After all, a noisy dog is liable to find herself sitting in a shelter awaiting death because the neighbors complained. There are few things as frustrating and even infuriating as a neighbor dog's incessant barking.

Many people initially acquire a dog for protection as well as companionship. A dog is supposed to bark when there is something amiss. It's his job to guard his home and family. Homes with dogs are far less likely to be targeted for burglary and other crimes. Even a small dog is a big deterrent to would-be robbers. Neighbors understand that a dog will bark at the meter reader, delivery person, or mail carrier for a minute or two. But they do not want to listen to 30 minutes of nonstop barking at every slight noise. It's only when barking is excessive that it becomes a problem. However, a problem barker is not the one at fault - we must look to the dog's guardians for the source of the behavior. Chronic or excessive barking arises because the dog is improperly socialized or trained, or because she is stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated. Debarking a dog does not make her any less stressed, hypersensitive, lonely, fearful, or frustrated! It is important to deal with the problem at its source, rather than turn down the volume surgically. These dogs still bark, they just don't make much noise.

Debarking surgery is not difficult (although it does entail general anesthesia and surgical risks such as bleeding and infection), but the rate of postoperative complications is very high. Some practitioners estimate that 50% of dogs will develop problems arising from the debarking surgery. These range from merely annoying (the dog regains his ability to bark within two or three years) to life-threatening (scar tissue obstructs the dog's airway). Correcting these complications requires more surgery, more risks, and more money. Again, this puts the dog at risk for landing in the shelter. This burdens taxpayers with the expense of dealing with yet another dog made essentially unadoptable by her guardians.

There are at least two other serious consequences linked to debarking. San Francisco has already been faced with one: the ability to disguise a large number of dogs on a property by debarking all of them. The other is being considered right now in the State of Ohio, where there is legislation pending to prohibit debarking of "vicious" dogs. The bill's sponsors believe that attack-trained dogs who are made silent by debarking are "deadly weapons." Indeed, no law enforcement professional wants to come upon a large and menacing Rottweiler without warning or time to prepare.

There are simple, effective training steps that will deter excessive barking, which is really only a cry for help. For instance, when a dog barks and his guardian yells at him to stop, the dog actually perceives this as the guardian joining him in barking, which only encourages more barking. Rough play, or "hunting games" like fetch, heighten a dog's excitement level. When left alone, he is keyed up and may express his frustration by barking. Calm exercise such as a walk will satisfy him without stirring up his adrenaline. Dogs that can hear people walking but cannot see them may bark at every footstep. Creating one or two dog-level "spy-holes" in a solid fence allows the dog to see and assess the "danger."

There are also "anti-bark" collars that deliver either a mild shock or puff of citronella (an aversive odor) to the dog when he barks. With such collars, there is some concern that they will discourage the dog from barking to the point that she becomes useless as a guard dog. These collars may also make a dog fearful and neurotic. However, judicious and appropriate use can be effective.


Declawing in cats is a surgical procedure that involves amputating each front toe at the first joint. This is equivalent to you losing the entire tip of every finger at the first knuckle. It is an excruciating procedure that may result in chronic lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications. It alters the way the cat moves and balances. This can cause strain and eventually arthritis in the upper leg joints as well as the feet. It is a barbaric and cruel procedure that is actually illegal in many countries. A respected 1990 veterinary text states that "The operative removal of the claws, as is sometimes practiced to protect furniture and curtains, is an act of abuse and should be forbidden by law in all, not just a few countries."

Declawed cats are reported to have a higher incidence of litterbox avoidance problems. Not many people would choose urine-soaked carpeting or mattresses to a a few claw marks, but unfortunately this is a common outcome. Declawed cats may also become biters. They must resort to using their teeth, because their primary means of defense has been taken away. Any of these unpleasant behaviors may ultimately kill the cat, because they are unacceptable at home, and also make the cat unadoptable if surrendered to a shelter.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University, who has written several books on canine and feline "psychology," says of declawing that it "fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of anesthetic drugs."

Cats waking from declaw surgery will thrash from wall to wall in the cage, howl, and shake their feet as if trying to fling them away. It is very distressing and heart-wrenching to see. Postoperative pain medication is available, but not always used. Complications include infections, abscesses, and abnormal regrowth of the claws. Any or all of these may occur, even many years after the surgery.

The latest trend is for this surgery to be done with lasers, which (in addition to a huge increase in cost) is said to make the immediate postoperative period much less painful for the cat. The long-term physical and behavioral consequences, however, remain unchanged.

The excuses people use for wanting to declaw a cat are usually trivial, and nearly always involve putting the well-being of their belongings above that of the cat. People who wish to own leather furniture need to understand that leather and cats cannot peacefully coexist in the same household.

Even declawing the front paws does not save leather furniture, since when a cat jumps down off a couch, she necessarily digs in her rear claws slightly. Declawing the back paws is even more painful than the front, and often results in litterbox avoidance problems. When a cat squats in the box, more weight and pressure are put on the rear paws, and cats often associate this pain with the box itself.

Cats of any age can be trained not to scratch furniture or other objects, including people, although it is obviously easier if the cat is trained as a kitten. Other than serious medical considerations, it is mostly the guardians' unwillingness or sheer laziness that results in cats being declawed.

There are many effective and inexpensive options now available, including soft plastic caps for the claws, clear sticky strips to apply to the furniture, and other deterrents, as well as a multitude of cat-attractive scratching posts, mats, door-hangers, and other distractions that will protect your possessions.
Jean Hofve, DVM, Animal Protection Institute

Spay & Neuter

About 4 million "excess" dogs and cats will be killed in shelters this year, while millions of homeless animals live short, hard, hungry lives on the streets, only to die miserably from disease, injury, or predation. About 1/3 of animals in shelters are purebreds, either intentionally or accidentally bred.

By being a responsible caregiver and sterilizing your companion animals, you avoid contributing to this terrible problem of pet overpopulation. Unsterilized (intact) dogs and cats usually find a way to get out and breed. Then, even if you could find good homes for the entire litter, each of your babies would displace another puppy or kitten that will then have to die.

Not all kittens and puppies taken to a shelter get adopted. If you take your litter to a typical, overcrowded shelter, it is likely that the entire litter of kittens or puppies will go straight from your hands to the killing room - they must be destroyed immediately, due to lack of cage space. (And don't think you can avoid the fatal consequences by taking them to a "no-kill" shelter - they may not have space. Even if they do accept your litter, that means other animals will be turned away, and taken to a shelter that may indeed kill them.)


Dogs and cats should be surgically sterilized to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as undesirable mating-related characteristics and behaviors. In females, this operation is called "spaying" and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. For males, "neutering" involves surgically removing the testicles. In most cases, your animal companion will be able to go home either the same day or the next day, and within a few days will be fully recovered. Young animals bounce back much quicker from these surgeries than older ones.


Neutered cats have a much lower risk of being infected by the deadly Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) (also called "Feline AIDS"), because they are much less likely to engage in fighting, which spreads this disease. Decreased roaming and territorial behavior in cats also lowers the risk of bite-wound abscesses. Neutering male cats stops spraying or urine marking in over 90% of cats, and solves this problems in female cats, who often will begin spraying when they go "into heat."

Spaying eliminates the "heat" cycle, which causes crying, pacing, and erratic behavior, especially in cats. Dogs in heat also produce a bloody vaginal discharge that can stain furniture and carpets. Cats and dogs in heat can attract persistent and often obnoxiously loud "suitors" from all over the neighborhood, even if they're kept indoors.

Spayed females are not susceptible to life-threatening uterine infections and reproductive tract cancers that can occur in breeding females, as well as mastitis, ovarian cysts, miscarriages and delivery complications. All these can be expensive to treat, and dangerous to your animal's health. Almost half of unspayed female dogs will develop breast cancer, while spaying before first heat reduces the incidence to almost zero. Even later spaying greatly reduces the risk. Spaying also decreases the risk of developing breast cancer in cats, for whom it is usually fatal.

Neutered male dogs are less apt to develop prostate cancer, and the risk of testicular cancers is eliminated. Up to 60% of older, intact dogs will get enlarged, painful prostates. Neutering male dogs greatly decreases the potential for aggressive behavior and biting, and tends to calm overactive dogs as well. It also decreases or eliminates "humping" behavior.

Some people think that their female dog or cat "should have at least one litter" before she is spayed, that it "settles" a dog or cat, or that she "needs" this experience to be a good household companion. This is completely untrue and there is no evidence, medical or factual, that supports this belief. Spayed and neutered dogs and cats are calmer, less frustrated, happier family members.


In the past, veterinarians recommended that a cat or dog be at least six months of age before they were sterilized. However, many cats and dogs reach sexual maturity before they are six months old, and many unplanned litters have resulted from this standard. Today, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends "early spay/neuter," which is the sterilization of puppies and kittens between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This has proven to be very safe, with rapid recovery. Many shelters now require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered before they can go home. This policy has begun to make a noticeable difference in the number of unwanted litters, but overpopulation is still a very serious problem.


This is a completely unjustifiable excuse, as there are numerous videotapes available for children to watch if they are interested in seeing animals being born. There is no guarantee that the mother won't give birth in the middle of the night, or while the children are at school. To experience "the real thing," consider doing foster care for your local shelter. Foster homes willing to take pregnant or nursing animals are rare - they will be delighted to hear from you!


People often worry that sterilizing their dog or cat will cause obesity. It's true that spaying and neutering does change an animal's metabolism - more or less instantaneously - but it may take the animal several weeks to adjust its appetite "thermostat." A spayed or neutered animal requires fewer calories for maintenance than an intact one. Some experts recommend cutting the amount you feed by 1/4 to 1/3 for 4 to 6 weeks post-operatively. By doing this, chances are good that he or she will be able to self-regulate at that weight the rest of his or her life. Also, animals, just like people, need exercise and physical activity to maintain their ideal weight. We as caregivers are responsible for keeping our cats and dogs active. A companion animal's metabolism, just like that of humans, tends to slow down as we get older. Therefore, less food and more exercise may be appropriate for your cat or dog as he or she matures.


It is actually much cheaper in the long run to have your companion animal spayed or neutered. If your female does get pregnant, you would bear the cost of veterinary care, raising and placing the litter, and medical bills for the mother should pregnancy or delivery complications arise. For males especially, infections and fight wounds can take a bite out of your wallet. There are also all the other health risks for intact animals. In many communities, the law requires dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered unless a special license or breeder's permit is purchased. Annual license fees may also be significantly less if your animals are altered. Spaying and neutering are preventive measures that will save you money.

If the expense of the surgery is a problem for you, there are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics throughout the country, and many veterinarians offer discounts. Contact your local shelter or animal control agency for a referral.

Companion Animals & Fireworks

Fireworks are meant to represent “bombs bursting in air”—and to dogs and cats, that’s exactly what they sound like. When animals hear the cracks and booms in the sky, many of them panic and jump over fences, break chains, or even break through glass windows in an effort to escape the terrifying sounds.

Many animals who run in fear are never found. After fireworks displays, animal shelters nationwide report an increase in the number of lost animals, some of whom have bloody paws from running, torn skin from breaking through wooden fences, or other serious injuries. Some animals are hit by cars or killed in other ways as they attempt to escape.

Take the following precautions to ensure the comfort and safety of your animal companions during fireworks displays:

Keep cats and dogs indoors, and if possible, stay with them.

Leave your animals at home during the celebrations—never take them with you to watch fireworks displays!

Never leave animals tethered or chained outside—they can hang themselves if they leap over a fence while trying to run from the noise.

Close your windows and curtains. To help drown out the sound of the fireworks, turn on fans and air-conditioning units as well as the TV or a radio that’s tuned to a classical-music station.

Consider purchasing a Thundershirt to help your dog or cat cope with the stress of the fireworks.

Other ways to keep animals calm include playing specially formulated CDs from Through a Dog’s Ear and giving them a natural supplement called melatonin, which is available at your local health-food store (but consult your veterinarian first).

Make sure that your animal companion is microchipped and wearing a collar or a harness with an up-to-date identification tag—just in case.

Pet Theft

Some 5 million family companion animals are reported missing annually. Based on "pet theft" reports, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.5 to 2 million of these missing companion animals are taken forcibly, or by deception, through so-called "Free to Good Home" ads.

Dogs and cats are sold to many different clients for many uses, including dog-fighting rings as fighters or as bait, to puppy mills for breeding, as meat for human consumption, as prey for exotic animals, as fur for clothing or accessories, as protective guard dogs, or for cult rituals. However, the most consistent and highest-paying client is often the research industry. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are used as laboratory subjects in universities and testing and research institutions every year. Research institutions prefer to experiment on animals that are accustomed to humans, as they tend to be docile and much easier to handle.

Some pounds, shelters and humane societies may sell "surplus" dogs and cats to Class B dealers and/or research facilities - a practice commonly called "pound seizure." Only a few states have outlawed pound seizure. In those states where pound seizure has not been banned, it is up to each city or county (depending on whether a facility is city or county run) to decide whether or not to allow or mandate pound seizure.

Whether or not a state-wide ban on pound seizure exists, some pounds or shelters practice pound seizure illegally - some even acquiring the animals illegally. There are known cases of family dogs and cats being picked up as "strays," being "laundered" through the pound, shelter or humane society system (by withholding them from view or taking them to an out-of-town facility to fulfill the required five-day holding period), and later sold to a dealer or research facility.

Having a pound, shelter or humane society that practices pound seizure in your area means that every companion animal is worth money, and increases the chances of pet theft occurring in your community.

Dog & Cat Fur

It is estimated that two million dogs and cats are killed each year in the fur trade. Dog and cat breeders operate primarily in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Breeders sell cat and dog furs to companies in Europe, who incorporate the fur and skin of the animals into clothing and products such as cat toys or stuffed animals. Products consisting partially or wholly of cat and dog fur are then sold to buyers in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world.

Businesses keep small or large groups of cats and dogs in breeding farms. Several such breeding farms are located in Northern China, where the fur of the animals grows thicker in the cold weather. These facilities hold up to 70 cats, or 5 to 300 dogs. Often, breeders are not businesses as such, but a family that keeps a few dogs and cats. They keep these animals outside, so that their coat grows thicker. At the beginning of the winter, they slaughter the animals and sell the pelts to fur traders. Breeders value short-haired cats and German shepherd dogs in particular.

As with other animals in the fur industry, dogs and cats are bred in dank facilities with inadequate food and water, under conditions that optimize the thickness and length of their fur, but weaken and sicken them in time for slaughter. 

To kill a dog, the butcher ties a metal wire around its neck, then stabs the dog in the groin area. The butcher then skins the dog, sometimes while the dog still lives. Butchers hang cats to kill them. Sometimes, they hang the cats, then pour water into their open mouths until the cats drown.
Often, cats and dogs are sold in open air markets. Breeders sell dog flesh to restaurants or food operations. Locals then use the cat and dog fur themselves, or sell to dealers in Europe. There, middlemen sell fur in auction houses, or incorporate cat and dog fur into European products. European dealers also use cat and dog skin. 

What You Can Do:

Unsuspecting consumers in the United States may well purchase fur items consisting of cat and dog fur. Often, pseudonyms will be used to describe cat and dog fur in products. In addition, cat and dog fur is difficult to discern from other types of fur, making it difficult for the customer to select a product that does not consist of fur from either of these animals. 

Cat and dogs are beloved animals in the United States, and the chance that fur products may consist of cat and dog fur should be reason enough to dissuade people from purchasing any and all fur or fur-trimmed products.

Please write your Congressional Representative.

The conditions that cats and dogs in the fur trade endure, however, differ little from those suffered by millions of other animals. Minks, raccoons, foxes, and other species live in horrible conditions when bred for their fur. Though these animals are not companion animals like dogs and cats, the humiliation they bear is the same, and their lives should be equally valued. 

Americans and others can better understand the terrible conditions endured by all animals in the fur trade by acknowledging the humiliation sustained by cats and dogs. Refrain from purchasing fur products or animal based products of any kind.

Companion Animals Facts


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